VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has called for talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia to restore peace in Nagorno-Karabakh, adding that the region was experiencing a humanitarian crisis.
“I have been following the dramatic situation of the displaced people in Nagorno-Karabakh in recent days and I renew my call for dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia, hoping that talks between the parties ... will foster a lasting agreement that will put an end to the humanitarian crisis,” the pope said during his Sunday prayer.
More than 100,000 refugees have arrived in Armenia since Azerbaijan’s military operation to retake control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the UN said on Saturday.
The pope also said he was praying for the victims of the explosion at a fuel depot near the city of Stepanakert in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Also on Sunday, Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general issued an arrest warrant for ex-Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan as the first UN mission to visit the region in three decades arrived in the former breakaway state.
Harutyunyan led the breakaway region, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but was largely populated by ethnic Armenians, between May 2020 and last month, when the separatist government said it would dissolve itself by the end of the year after a three-decade bid for independence.
Azerbaijani police arrested one of Harutyunyan’s former prime ministers, Ruben Vardanyan, on Wednesday as he tried to cross into Armenia along with tens of thousands of others who have fled following Baku’s 24-hour blitz last week to reclaim control of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Harutyunyan and the enclave’s former military commander, Jalal Harutyunyan, are accused of firing missiles on Azerbaijan’s third-largest city, Ganja, during a 44-day war in late 2020, local media reported.
The clash between the Azerbaijani military and Nagorno Karabakh forces led to the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the region.
The arrest warrant announcement by Prosecutor General Kamran Aliyev reflects Azerbaijan’s intention to quickly and forcefully enforce its grip on the region following three decades of conflict with the separatist state.
While Baku has pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, many have fled due to fear of reprisals or losing the freedom to use their language and to practice their religion and cultural customs.
In a briefing on Sunday, Armenia’s presidential press secretary, Nazeli Baghdasaryan, said that 100,483 people had already arrived in Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, which had a population of about 120,000 before Azerbaijan’s offensive.
Some people lined up for days to escape the region because the only route to Armenia — a winding mountain road — became jammed with slow-moving vehicles.
A UN delegation arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh Sunday to monitor the situation.
The mission is the organization’s first to the region for three decades, due to the “very complicated and delicate geopolitical situation” there, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Friday.
Local officials dismissed the visit as a formality.
Hunan Tadevosyan, spokesperson for Nagorno-Karabakh’s emergency services, said the UN representatives had come too late and the number of civilians left in the regional capital of Stepanakert could be “counted on one hand.”