The US Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power and US State Department acting assistant secretary Yuri Kim met Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in the capital Yerevan Monday.
Power traveled to Yerevan “to affirm US support for Armenia’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and democracy and help address humanitarian needs stemming from the recent violence in Nagorno-Karabakh,” USAID said in a statement Monday.
The first visit of senior US officials to Yerevan came as thousands were fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia, days after Azerbaijan launched a lightning offensive and said it had taken back full control of the breakaway region. As Azerbaijan’s forces have drawn closer, its ethnic Armenian population have begun to evacuate, preferring to leave their homes than live under Azerbaijani rule.
Speaking from the Armenian village of Kornidzor, near the border with Azerbaijan, Power said, “It is absolutely critical that independent monitors as well as humanitarian organizations get access to the people in Nagorno-Karabakh who still have dire needs.
“The military attacks of last week have made a dire situation even worse,” Power said Tuesday, adding that many of those who had arrived were suffering from “severe malnutrition,” according to doctors at the scene.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been under blockade since December 2022, when Azerbaijan-backed activists established a military checkpoint on the Lachin corridor – the only road connecting the landlocked enclave to Armenia.
The blockade prevented the import of food, fuel and medicine to Nagorno-Karabakh, prompting fears that residents were being left to starve. A former International Criminal Court chief prosecutor said in August there is “reasonable basis to believe that genocide is being committed against Armenians” in the region.
The closure of the Lachin corridor has also prevented international organizations and foreign media from accessing Nagorno-Karabakh. The road was only opened last weekend to allow residents to flee.
“We know that there are injured civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh who need to be evacuated,” Power said, adding that Azerbaijan has a responsibility to facilitate this.
Power announced Tuesday that the US would provide $11.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the region.
The European Union also announced 5 million euros (around $5.2 million) in aid.
“This aid will be delivered by various EU humanitarian partners operating in Armenia to reach around 25 000 people,” the EU said in a statement Tuesday. “The priority is to provide cash assistance, shelter, food security and livelihoods assistance.”
Azerbaijan’s brief but bloody offensive killed more than 200 people and injured many more, before Karabakh officials agreed to a Russia-brokered ceasefire in which they agreed to dissolve their armed forces.
A further 100 bodies were recovered in the latest search and rescue operations following Azerbaijan’s military operations, Karabakh emergency services told Armenian state news agency Armenpress Monday. Among the bodies were two children and an elderly couple, officials said. CNN could not independently verify the claims.
A mass evacuation of the local population began over the weekend. Images shared on social media showed residents of Stepanakert, the region’s capital, packing their belongings into cars and vans, and searching for gas. The local government had offered each family five liters of fuel to make the trip to Armenia, a resident told CNN.
But as thousands were attempting to flee the enclave on Monday evening, a powerful explosion ripped through a gas station near Stepanakert, where people had been attempting to get fuel before driving to Armenia.
At least 20 people were killed and 290 wounded in the blast, Armenpress said. The wounded were taken to four hospitals across Nagorno-Karabakh, one of them being a Russian peacekeeping mission clinic.
Videos on social media showed a crowded hospital in the city as medical staff attempted to treat burn patients. “At this moment, we do not have any medical resources left that can help us. In terms of medication, we do not have [anti-burn] antibiotics. We have a very high number of burn patients,” said a member of the medical staff at a hospital in Stepanakert, in a video shared Monday by local journalist Siranush Sargsyan.