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Azerbaijan urges ethnic Armenians 'not to leave' Karabakh

Azerbaijan urges ethnic Armenians 'not to leave' Karabakh

Residents board a vehicle in central Stepanakert before leaving Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, September 25, 2023. After a lightning operation by Azerbaijan's military to retake control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the stream of ethnic Armenians fleeing the region to Armenia quickly turned into a flood. — Reuters pic

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Sept 28 — Azerbaijan today said it wanted ethnic Armenians to remain in Nagorno-Karabakh after its lightning offensive crushed the rebel region's independence bid.

"We call on Armenian residents not to leave their homes and become part of Azerbaijan's multi-ethnic society," the Azerbaijani foreign ministry said after more than half of the region's population fled to Armenia in just a few days.

Yerevan said 70,000 of the region's estimated 120,000 people had entered Armenia since Azerbaijan lifted a nine-month blockade on Sunday.

The separatist government on Thursday agreed to dissolve its government and formally become part of Azerbaijan by the end of the year.

Baku's statement came after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Thursday accused it of engaging in "ethnic cleansing" by driving people out.

"Nikol Pashinyan knows perfectly well that Armenian residents are leaving Karabakh on their own volition," the foreign ministry said.

"This is their personal decision which has nothing to do with forced migration." — AFP