Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of following ‘policy of ethnic cleansing’

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Armenia on Thursday accused arch-foe Azerbaijan of conducting a “policy of ethnic cleansing” and forcing ethnic Armenians to leave the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Since mid-December, a group of Azerbaijanis has been blocking the only road into Karabakh from Armenia to protest what they claim is illegal mining causing environmental damage.

As a result, the mountainous region of some 120,000 people has been running short of food, medicines and fuel.

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On Thursday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Baku of exerting “economic and psychological pressure to provoke an exodus of Armenians from Karabakh.”

“This is a policy of ethnic cleansing,” he told a cabinet meeting in the capital Yerevan.

He said kindergartens, schools and universities remained closed in Karabakh due to the blockade, with thousands of students “being denied their fundamental right to education.”

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Thursday rejected the accusation as “groundless, false, and absurd.”

He said Russian peacekeepers and the Red Cross had ensured the delivery of civilian goods to Karabakh.

“Thousands of civilian cars have entered and left Karabakh since December 12,” he told a newly appointed French ambassador.

Since December 12, Azerbaijani protesters who claim to be environmental activists opposed to illegal mining have occupied the Lachin corridor, a mountain road linking Karabakh to Armenia.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Aliyev to reopen the Lachin corridor, and the European Union the same day launched a mission to help monitor Armenia’s volatile border with Azerbaijan.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists in Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.

Another flare-up in violence in 2020 claimed more than 6,500 lives and ended with a Russian-brokered truce that saw Armenia cede territories it had controlled for decades.

Armenia has voiced dismay at what it sees as Moscow’s failure to prevent persisting tensions in the region including the Lachin blockade.

Moscow has sought to maintain its role as a powerbroker between the ex-Soviet republics despite being bogged down in its offensive in pro-Western Ukraine.

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