Ten days after the ceasefire, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, is a ghost town. This Armenian enclave located in Azerbaijan, and which had been the subject of a blockade from Baku since December 2022, was recaptured during a lightning attack which led to an Azeri victory on September 19. In the process, the 120,000 Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, fearing reprisals from Azeri soldiers, took the road of exodus.
Images from the Qatari channel Al-Jazeera, one of the only ones to have had access to the enclave, notably show the central square of the city littered with clothes and empty strollers, signs of a hasty departure of the inhabitants. “If I keep quiet, you won’t hear anything,” comments the journalist, impressed by the silence. There is absolutely no one here anymore.”
Who is still in the town where some 55,000 residents lived? No one answers with accuracy from the Azerbaijani side. In this video filmed Monday, the Al-Jazeera journalist explains that he saw earlier some members of the Red Cross organizing the last evacuation operations.
Faced with the massive exodus of Armenians from the enclave, a land where this people had been present for 2,500 years, Yerevan accuses Baku of “ethnic cleansing”. Azerbaijan denies this, and on the contrary claims to want to “reintegrate” the Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh. The president of the autonomous region, Samvel Shahramanian, who capitulated to Azerbaijan, promised to stay in his capital "until the end of search and rescue operations, for the dead and missing people."
At the Saint-Mère-de-Dieu Cathedral, a last liturgical service was sung before abandoning the building.
It has been months since any outside media has been able to visit Nagorno-Karabakh. On Monday, AFP journalists were also exceptionally able to enter Stepanakert, for two hours and under Azeri escort. From the hill, French journalists noted the “heavy” silence of the city appearing in the distance, with its towers, tall buildings and bell towers. A “dissonant” silence for a city of this size.
In less than a week, Baku has already replaced the roadside sign with a brand new “Khankendi”, the Azeri name for the city of Stepanakert. AFP journalists note the presence of the winner is still discreet. Only a few police officers patrol the city.
“All the buildings, restaurants, hotels, supermarkets are emptied and deserted, many broken and the stalls empty, a sign of looting or hasty departures,” AFP journalists continue to report. “No more Armenian flags are visible from the road. No civilians in sight. The only Armenian inhabitant seen for kilometers of crossing is a lone, haggard man, carrying a seal in his hand and surrounded by a pack of six German shepherds. The Soviet-style factories, the construction sites of new middle-class housing, the vegetable gardens of the small houses, the garbage cans and even the livestock are left to their own devices.”
The only significant movements are those, numerous, of Russian soldiers from the peacekeeping contingent deployed since 2020. On board a tank, by car or on foot, they come and go in the city. “With their immense bases, their Orthodox churches with golden onions, they are in Stepanakert as at home,” note the AFP journalists.