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Tens of thousands of Armenians flee enclave after Azerbaijani forces take over

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The world is witnessing another mass exodus, this time from Nagorno-Karabakh. Officials say some 50,000 people have fled the enclave and crossed into Armenia. Ethnic Armenians are abandoning what they see as their ancestral homeland, rather than be ruled by Azerbaijan. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It began this last weekend with a few thousand. Today, by mid-afternoon local time, it was nearly half the population of Nagorno-Karabakh - a river of people leaving their mountain homes to join a huge line of cars, buses, trucks and tractors, jamming the road, which winds down to Armenia.

DIANA ARUSHANYAN: They are actually arriving with nothing - literally nothing - because they didn't have any time to take their clothes, to take anything from their homes.

REEVES: Diana Arushanyan is a volunteer with the Ethos Foundation, an Armenia-based aid organization. She's been up and down that mountain road in the last few days, helping those now fleeing.

ARUSHANYAN: Actually, they are mentally absolutely broken. That's the worst thing because they are, like, very scared.

REEVES: They include lots of frightened children, she says.

ARUSHANYAN: The kids are mostly silent, and they are just trying to stick to their parents.

REEVES: Nagorno-Karabakh's been the focus of conflict in the Caucasus since shortly before the Soviet Union fell apart. Its Armenian citizens consider it an autonomous republic. The international community says it's Azerbaijan's. Last week, after blockading the enclave for months, Azerbaijan launched a lightning military assault and took control.

SAMANTHA POWER: We need to ensure that the international community gets access into Nagorno-Karabakh.

REEVES: Samantha Power is head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. She's been visiting the region.

POWER: There are still tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians who are there, living in very vulnerable conditions.

REEVES: These include aid worker Diana Arushanyan's grandparents and dozens of other family members. She says she's worrying about them all the time.

ARUSHANYAN: I'm just, like, very anxious 24/7. I just don't know if something is going to happen with them specifically.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.