According to authorities in Stepanakert, the six-week war displaced at least 90,000 Karabakh Armenian civilians making up around 60 percent of the territory’s population. Most of them took refuge in Armenia.
The authorities urged the refugees to return home immediately after the entry into force of the truce. The Karabakh president, Ara Harutiunian, assured them that the impending deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in and around Karabakh will serve as an additional guarantee of their security.
Harutiunian also said that his administration will act quickly to restore many homes and public infrastructures damaged during the fierce fighting.
On Friday Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian met with senior Armenian government officials to discuss further aid programs for the Karabakh refugees.
“Our priority is to have them receive that aid in Artsakh (Karabakh),” Pashinian said in his opening remarks at the meeting. “That is to say that it must be a program that will contribute to the return of our compatriots to Artsakh.”
Yerevan Mayor Hayk Marutian met, meanwhile, with Harutiunian in Stepanakert. It was announced afterwards that Yerevan’s municipal administration will provide buses that will transport refugees from the Armenian capital to Karabakh free of charge on a daily basis.
About 200 refugees were bused to Stepanakert on Saturday. Among them was Tatevik Hovakimian, a resident of the Karabakh capital whose home was seriously damaged by Azerbaijani shelling.
“Never mind, we will somehow get by,” Hovakimian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “The main thing is to return home, to be in our land. We are used to difficulties. We will overcome this one as well.”
“Whether or not it’s dangerous, we must go back, we have no other option,” said Inna Sarukhanian, another Stepanakert resident.
Arevik Abrahamian, another Karabakh Armenian woman, likewise chose to return to Askeran, a small town 10 kilometers east of Stepanakert, despite being wary of lingering security risks. “It’s dangerous, but where else could we live if we don’t go back?” she said.