Villagers in Nagorno-Karabakh set their houses on fire on Saturday before fleeing to Armenia ahead of a weekend deadline that will see parts of the territory handed over to Azerbaijan as part of a peace agreement.
Residents of the Kalbajar district in Azerbaijan that was controlled by Armenian separatists for decades began a mass exodus this week after it was announced Azerbaijan would regain control on Sunday.
Fighting between the separatists backed by Armenian troops and the Azerbaijan army erupted in late September and raged for six weeks.
Armenia announced on Saturday 2,317 servicemen were killed in the conflict, which forced thousands to flee their homes.
“To date, our forensic service has examined the corpses of 2,317 dead servicemen, including unidentified ones,” Armenian health ministry spokeswoman Alina Nikoghosyan wrote on Facebook, recording an increase of nearly 1,000 deaths compared with the last confirmed death toll among Armenian fighters.
‘Burn down their house’
In the village of Charektar – on the border with the neighbouring district of Martakert, which is to remain under Armenian control – at least six houses were on fire on Saturday morning with thick plumes of grey smoke rising over the valley.
“This is my house, I can’t leave it to the Turks,” as Azerbaijanis are often called by Armenians, said one resident as he threw burning wooden planks and rags soaked in gasoline into a completely empty house.
“Everybody is going to burn down their house today … We were given until midnight to leave,” he said.
On Friday, at least 10 houses were burned in and around Charektar.