KORNIDZOR, ARMENIA: Refugees evacuating from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in neighboring Armenia. Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters

In Photos: The Nagorno-Karabakh Exodus

Azerbaijan’s military takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh sparked a mass exodus of nearly the entire region’s population of ethnic Armenians.

KORNIDZOR, ARMENIA: Refugees evacuating from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in neighboring Armenia. Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters

Most of the population of the breakaway state of Nagorno-Karabakh has fled to Armenia after Azerbaijan launched a deadly military operation there in September.

A truck with refugees on board rides on the road between Kornidzor and Goris.
GORIS/KORNIDZOR, ARMENIA: A truck carrying refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh travels between the two Armenian towns. Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images
A girl and boy sitting inside a refugee bus.
GORIS: Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Armenia. For some, it is a dayslong journey. Diego Herrera Carcedo/AFP/Getty Images
Refugee women and children stand on the sidewalk before being evacuated in various Armenian cities.
GORIS: The influx of refugees has placed enormous strain on Armenia, which has a population of only about three million. Diego Herrera Carcedo/AFP/Getty Images

The ensuing seizure of the region ended more than three decades of self-declared independence by the ethnic Armenian–controlled enclave. Experts say the influx of more than one hundred thousand refugees into Armenia in less than a week has triggered a health and humanitarian crisis that requires international support.

A sign with an arrow reading Askaran is seen in a street in Khandkendi, Azerbaijan.
STEPANAKERT, NAGORNO-KARABAKH: A sign welcomes people to Askaran, a town near Khankendi, Azerbaijan’s name for the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. Aziz Karimov/Getty Images

The Takeover

Photo showing a damaged residential building as a result of shelling in the town of Stepanakert.
STEPANAKERT: A residential building in the region’s de facto capital was struck by shelling during Azerbaijan’s attack. Hasmik Khachatryan/AFP/Getty Images

Since December 2022, residents of Nagorno-Karabakh had been under intensifying pressure after Azerbaijan restricted access and later established a blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. Living conditions in the region slowly deteriorated as the blockade prevented imports of food, fuel, medicine, and other essential items. In August, the Armenian ambassador to the United Nations warned that Nagorno-Karabakh was “on the verge of a full-fledged humanitarian catastrophe.”


Maxar satellite imagery reveals a long traffic jam of vehicles along the Lachin corridor as thousands of ethnic Armenians leave Stepanakert.
STEPANAKERT: Thousands of residents flee Nagorno-Karabakh via the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting the mountainous territory to Armenia. Satellite image 2023 Maxar Technologies

On September 19, Azerbaijan launched what it called an “anti-terrorist operation” in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The small, land-locked territory, located in the South Caucasus, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians in recent decades.

A girl embraces her relative sitting in a shelter during shelling in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh.
STEPANAKERT: A young girl and her relative seek safety in a shelter amid Azerbaijan’s assault. Siranush Sargsyan/AP Photo

The twenty-four-hour attack involved heavy artillery and drone strikes aimed at military targets. Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said its forces seized more than sixty military posts and destroyed up to twenty military vehicles. The office of the ombudsman in Nagorno-Karabakh said at least two hundred people were killed in the fighting, including multiple civilians, and more than four hundred wounded.

People attend a funeral of a member of the separatist troops of Nagorno-Karabakh.
STEPANAKERT: Residents hold a funeral for a member of the region’s separatist forces who was killed during Azerbaijan’s blitz. David Ghahramanyan/Reuters

The day after the attack, the Azerbaijani government and Armenian separatist forces agreed to a Russia-brokered cease-fire. As part of that deal, the separatists disarmed and disbanded, while officials from both sides agreed to participate in talks about the future of the region and its population. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Baku’s sovereignty had been restored “with an iron fist.”

The Exodus

A line of cars, many loaded with personal belongings seen along the highway to Goris, Armenia.
GORIS: Ethnic Armenians flee to the Armenian border town of Goris after Azerbaijan’s assault on Nagorno-Karabakh. The exodus causes huge traffic jams. Ashley Chan/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

By early October, more than one hundred thousand people—over three-quarters of the region’s population—had fled to neighboring Armenia. A recent UN mission to Nagorno-Karabakh, the United Nations’ first to the region in three decades, confirmed on October 2 that only between fifty and one thousand ethnic Armenians remained.

Residents packed their belongings into vehicles as they searched for fuel to flee the region via the Lachin Corridor, which was reopened to allow their departure. Fuel remains in high demand, with one resident telling CNN that Nagorno-Karabakh’s government offered each family 5 liters (1.3 gallons) to get to Armenia. For some, it would be a dayslong journey.

An Armenian woman and children from Nagorno-Karabakh walk along the road from Nagorno-Karabakh to Kornidzor in Syunik region
SYUNIK PROVINCE, ARMENIA: Residents fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh head for the Armenian village of Kornidzor. Many are traveling with few belongings. Vasily Krestyaninov/AP Photo
An Armenian boy looks through the window of an open car door while fleeing from Nagorno-Karabakh.
KORNIDZOR: Refugees travel through towns in Armenia as they look to escape Nagorno-Karabakh following Azerbaijan’s military takeover. Anthony Pizzoferrato/Middle East Images/AFP/Getty Images
Volunteers from Armenia lending a helping hand to refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh passing through Kornidzor with water, food, and ciagrettes.
KORNIDZOR: Armenian volunteers offer water and food to refugees passing through the area. Anthony Pizzoferrato/Middle East Images/AFP/Getty Images

Senior U.S. officials have warned of worsening malnutrition among refugees. Food and medicine is scarce, and many people are arriving in Armenia with little to nothing.

The International Response

 Newly arrived refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh processing in the Goris registration center.
GORIS: Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh are processed at a registration center in one of the largest refugee hubs. Anthony Pizzoferrato/Middle East Images/AFP/Getty Images

The ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh “is experiencing ethnic cleansing at warp speed,” writes CFR expert David J. Scheffer. Armenian officials have likewise accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing in the region, a claim that Baku denies. Some observers, such as former International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo and some international aid groups, warned in August that the blockade of the enclave’s residents was using starvation as “an invisible genocide weapon.

Newly arrived refugees from Nagorno Karabakh receive food.
GORIS: Once safe in Armenia, many residents of Nagorno-Karabakh receive food and medical treatment. Anthony Pizzoferrato/Middle East Images/AFP/Getty Images

With a population of only about three million, Armenia is struggling to cope with the influx of refugees. Many of them have arrived in the border town of Goris, where they are processed at a registration center. They receive housing, food, medicine, and free transportation to anywhere in the country. But aid officials say it’s not enough. “The new arrivals need urgent emergency assistance,” said Marthe Everard, the special representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director to Armenia. “The scale of the crisis is too large.”

An ethnic Armenian boy from Nagorno-Karabakh, looks out from a car upon his arrival in Goris.
GORIS: A young boy arrives in the Armenian border town after fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh. Most of the region’s population has evacuated. Vasily Krestyaninov/AP Photo

Major organizations, including the WHO and other UN agencies, are providing relief to refugees arriving in Armenia. In Nagorno-Karabakh, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been helping to evacuate people left behind, including the sick and wounded. As humanitarian needs grow, Azerbaijan has announced a number of measures, including the provision of food, fuel, and medical supplies, as well as the restoration of electricity to Stepanakert, the de facto capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.

An old Armenian refugee man sitting on a chair receives help from 2 police officers in Goris.
GORIS: Many ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Armenia with few belongings after Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive. Diego Herrera Carcedo/AFP/Getty Images
A family of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh look on as they wait near a Red Cross registration center in Goris.
GORIS: Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh wait to receive assistance outside of a registration center run by the Red Cross Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the United States, Canada, and the European Union have pledged millions of dollars worth of emergency humanitarian aid, protection services, and other life-saving assistance to help people displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power speaks to the media as she visits the aid centre for refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh region in the border village of Kornidzor, Armenia.
KORNIDZOR: Samantha Power, chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), speaks to reporters while visiting an aid center for refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters
Recommended Resources

CFR’s Center for Preventive Action tracks the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

CFR expert David J. Scheffer looks at how international law can respond to what he described as ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh.

CFR’s Abigail McGowan explains what to know about Azerbaijan’s pressure on Nagorno-Karabakh.

The International Crisis Group depicts the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in this visual explainer.

For Foreign Affairs, Carnegie Europe’s Thomas de Waal explores how Western inaction enabled Azerbaijan and Russia to act in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In this 2017 Contingency Planning Memorandum, the University of Kentucky’s Carey Cavanaugh discusses the renewed conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.