At least 60,000 Nagorno-Karabakh civilians have fled or been evacuated from the breakaway province in the past nine days before Thursday's announcement that it would cease to exist as of Jan. 1. Photo courtesy of Russian Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE
Sept. 28 (UPI) -- The leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh region agreed Thursday to dissolve the breakaway province a little more than a week after Azerbaijani forces re-took it in a blitzkrieg military offensive.
De facto Nogorno-Karabakh President Samvel Shakhramanyan signed an accord with the central government in Baku agreeing to "dissolve all state institutions and organizations under their departmental authority by Jan. 1, 2024."
The decree presents the rebel province's predominately ethnic-Armenian population with a fait accompli choice to accept Azerbaijan rule and re-integrate; or leave, according to details of the agreement posted on Nogorno-Karabakh's Facebook community page.
The local population should "familiarize themselves with the conditions of reintegration presented by the Republic of Azerbaijan, with the aim of making an independent and individual decision about the possibility of staying (or returning) in Nagorno-Karabakh," the decree states.
Residents and military personnel who have laid down their arms "should be guaranteed" free passage with their belongings out of Norgorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, via the Lachin Corridor that links it with Armenia in accordance with the ceasefire brokered by Russia's peacekeeping force in the country, according to Shakhramanyan.
"The decree was issued in light of the complicated political-military situation created, starting with the priority of ensuring the physical security and the vital interests of the people of Artsakh," he said.
More than 60,000 ethnic-Armenians had already fled Nogorno-Karabakh prior to Thursday's announcement, despite assurances by Azerbaijan to guarantee their safety.
Many of those arriving from over the border were in a "dire condition," said United States Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power in a visit to the border Tuesday.
Azerbaijan's special "anti-terror" operation launched Sept. 19 against Armenian positions in Nogorno-Karabakh was brought to an end by a Russian-brokered ceasefire after just one day but Baku insisted that the Artsakh government disband, threatening to continue its military offensive if it failed to do so.
An apparent political reprisal campaign by Azerbaijan was also underway with the detention Wednesday of the Armenian leader of the disputed region, Ruben Vardanyan, by the Azerbaijan border guard service on Wednesday.
Western capitals have been trying unsuccessfully to persuade Baku to admit international monitors to observe how it is treating the local ethnic-Armenian population.