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Almost all ethnic Armenians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh in a mass exodus

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Relief agencies in Armenia say they believe they are seeing the final wave of refugees crossing over from Nagorno-Karabakh. The U.N. Refugee Agency says they're prepared to take in as many as 120,000 people, which would amount to the entire ethnic Armenian population from the enclave inside Azerbaijan. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Goris, one of the main arrival points for refugees. Peter, thanks so much for being with us.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: What do you see there today?

KENYON: Well, I arrived this morning, and I found quite a few weary aid providers assisting what appeared to me to be quite a large crowd of refugees. But the agency workers say the traffic is slowly but surely thinning out. And it's possible, they say, that after this weekend, virtually everyone who's able to cross will have done so. I say able because that won't likely include everyone who may want to cross through. Azerbaijani officials have said there are an unspecified number of people who could face arrest in what they call counterterrorism operations. But so far, more than 100,000 people have crossed, according to the latest official figures, some 80% of the population believed to be there before this all happened. Now, I met Tatiana (ph) here in Goris. She's a doctor with an Armenian foundation, provides assistance in emergency situations. She says it's been very busy day and night, diagnosing patients, providing medicine for ethnic Armenians who in many cases haven't had access to proper health care for months. As a result, she says, it's a mix of ongoing care, chronic conditions that have worsened due to lack of medical treatment and injuries suffered during the trek from the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

SIMON: What will happen to those folks?

KENYON: Well, they are dragging their belongings, the ones they could carry, onto buses which are headed to various parts of Armenia. One common theme seems to be they do not want to resettle anywhere near the border with Azerbaijan. The capital, Yerevan, is a possibility, but housing shortages have plagued the capital for some time now there. I'm hearing anecdotally that some of the refugees are saying, well, what about somewhere in central Armenia? That sounds quiet. It is largely farmland, with the consequence that they may not be able to find economic opportunities, the ability to earn a living. But the buses are rolling out of Goris, heading to various parts of this country of less than 3 million people.

SIMON: You mentioned the Armenian enclave that was begun in the early 1990s. Officials now say that it will be dissolved. That'll be a thing of the past. What does that mean for relations between these two countries?

KENYON: Well, those relations have not been cordial and certainly worsened dramatically when the Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan was established. Azerbaijanis say that land was effectively taken by force with thousands of people displaced or killed. Now officials in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, are saying they don't object to ethnic Armenians living in their country, but they will have to submit to Azerbaijani rule. And people here are saying after the long history of tensions and hostilities, that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Whether some future diplomatic effort might bring about better relations remains to be seen.

SIMON: What about the international relations and alliances? How have they come through this?

KENYON: Well, this has many people here scratching their heads. Armenia has traditionally relied on Russia for security protection and support, an arrangement they've had for something like over a century. But Moscow made no effort to forestall, prevent or push back against this Azerbaijani siege of the ethnic Armenian portion of Nagorno-Karabakh or then the sudden push that drove some 100,000 people across the border to Armenia. The West also made no move beyond rhetoric to calm the situation, we should note. One alliance that seems to have remained strong through all this is the one between Azerbaijan and Turkey. President Erdogan visited Baku recently and has couched the most recent events as some kind of self-defense, which, needless to say, is hard for people here to comprehend.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Goris, Armenia. Thanks so much for being with us.

KENYON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.