Russia said that Armenian fighters in the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh had started to give up arms as some humanitarian aid reached the 120,000 Armenians there who say the world has abandoned them after Azerbaijan defeated their forces.
The Armenians of Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, were forced to declare a ceasefire on Sept. 20 after a lightning 24-hour military operation by the much larger Azerbaijani military.
"The armed formations of Karabakh have begun handing over weapons and military equipment under the control of Russian peacekeepers," said Russia, which has around 2,000 peacekeepers in Karabakh.
Russia's Defence Ministry said so far six armoured vehicles, more than 800 guns, about 5,000 units of ammunition were handed over by the fighters.
Russia said it had delivered more than 50 tonnes of food and other aid. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had supplied 28,000 diapers as well as blankets and fuel and said it would send more.
The future of Karabakh and its 120,000 ethnic Armenians hangs in the balance: Azerbaijan wants to integrate the long-contested region, but ethnic Armenians say they fear they will be persecuted and have accused the world of abandoning them.
Armenians in Karabakh told Reuters that they were essentially besieged in the region, with little food, electricity or fuel – and called on big powers to help them.
Azerbaijan envisages an amnesty for Karabakh Armenian fighters who give up their arms and has said the Armenians can leave the region for Armenia if they want.
Armenia, which lost a 2020 war to Azerbaijan over the region, has set up space for tens of thousands of Armenians from Karabakh, though Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says he does not want them to leave their homes unless it is absolutely necessary.
Azerbaijan began its "anti-terrorist" operation on Tuesday against Nagorno-Karabakh after some of its troops were killed in what Baku said were attacks from the mountainous region.
The United States said it was deeply concerned by "Azerbaijan’s military actions."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said he was "concerned about the humanitarian situation for the population inside Nagorno-Karabakh, and the imperative of having unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations to reach populations in need is also front and centre in our thinking."
Accounts of the fighting were chilling.
Armenui Karapetyan, an Armenian in Karabakh, said he was now homeless, holding just a few possessions and a photograph of his 24-year-old son who died in 2020, after leaving his home in the village of Kusapat.
"Today we were thrown out into the street – they made us vagabonds," Karapetyan told Armenia A1+, a partner of Reuters.
"What can I say? We live in an unfair, abandoned world. I have nothing to say. I feel sorry for the blood of our boys. I feel sorry for our lands for which our boys sacrificed their lives, and today … I miss the grave of my son."
Thousands of Karabakh Armenians have massed at the airport seeking the protection of Russian peacekeepers there.
Svetlana Alaverdyan, from the village of Arajadzor, said she had fled with just the clothes on her back after gunfights gripped the village.
"They were shooting on the right, they were shooting on the left – we went out one after another, without taking clothes," she told Armenia A1+.
“I had two sons – I gave them away, what else can I give? The superpowers resolve their issues at our expense.”