NEW YORK, Sept 24 — Armenia yesterday urged the United Nations to send a mission to ensure the safety of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh after the territory was seized back by Azerbaijan, which promised to respect minority rights.

For the second time since the swift Azerbaijani operation in the mountainous territory, the top diplomats of the adversaries clashed at the United Nations as Western powers voiced alarm.

Armenia — where memories remain vivid of mass killings in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire that Armenians, the United States and many historians consider genocide — has accused Turkish ally Azerbaijan of planning ethnic cleansing.

“After failure of preventing genocide in Rwanda, the United Nations managed to create mechanisms for prevention, thus making the ‘never again’ a meaningful pledge,” Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said.

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“But today we are at the brink of another failure,” he said in a speech to the UN General Assembly.

He called for the United Nations to send a mission immediately to Nagorno-Karabakh to “monitor and assess the human rights, humanitarian and security situation on the ground.”

Azerbaijan’s foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, had accused Armenia of disinformation when the two top diplomats joined a special Security Council session Thursday.

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On Saturday, Bayramov also spoke at the General Assembly and said that Azerbaijan, which is mostly Muslim, would respect the Armenians, who are Christian.

“I wish to reiterate that Azerbaijan is determined to reintegrate ethnic Armenian residents of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan as equal citizens,” Bayramov said.

“We continue to firmly believe that there is a historic opportunity for both Azerbaijan and Armenia to establish good neighbourly relations and coexist side by side in peace,” Bayramov said.

US calls for protections

Russia, which sent peacekeepers after earlier violence in 2020, on Saturday was supervising the disarmament of ethnic Armenian fighters.

If the surrender is completed, it could effectively end a conflict that has erupted periodically since the fall of the Soviet Union.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had led three rounds of talks seeking a diplomatic solution, voiced “deep concern” for the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh in a telephone call with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Blinken told him that the United States is pressing Azerbaijan “to protect civilians and uphold its obligations to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh and to ensure its forces comply with international humanitarian law,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

Azerbaijan’s swift offensive, which killed some 200 people, has sparked protests in Armenia against Russia, which had been tasked with guaranteeing the truce after the 2020 fighting.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking to reporters at the United Nations, accused Western powers of “pulling the strings” to undermine Moscow but also said, “Unfortunately, the leadership of Armenia from time to time adds fuel to the fire itself.”

Lavrov pointed to one senior Armenian politician who said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had handed Nagorno-Karabakh over to Azerbaijan.

“It is ludicrous to accuse us of this,” Lavrov said, while adding that he expected Armenians to maintain in Moscow’s orbit and not ally with “those who swoop in from abroad.”

A declaration signed in 1991 in Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty, then known as Alma-Ata, stated that existing borders of newly independent countries that had been Soviet republics were inviolable.

The declaration “meant that Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan — pure and simple as that,” Lavrov said. — AFP