The 120,000 ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will leave for Armenia as they do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan and fear ethnic cleansing, the leadership of the breakaway region told Reuters on Sunday.
Armenia's Prime Minister also said the Karabakh Armenians were likely to leave the region, and that Armenia was ready to take them in, following a defeat last week at the hands of Azerbaijan in a conflict dating to the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Armenians of Karabakh, a territory internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but previously beyond Baku's control, were forced to declare a ceasefire on September 20 after a lightning 24-hour military operation by the much larger Azerbaijani military.
Azerbaijan says it will guarantee their rights and integrate the region, but the Armenians say they fear repression.
"Our people do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan. Ninety-nine point nine per cent prefer to leave our historic lands," David Babayan, an adviser to Samvel Shahramanyan, the president of the self-styled Republic of Artsakh, told Reuters.
The ethnic Armenian fighters had begun giving up their weapons, he said, adding it was unclear when the population would move down the Lachin corridor which links the territory to Armenia where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced calls to resign for failing to save Karabakh.
In an address to the nation, Pashinyan said some humanitarian aid had arrived but the Armenians of Karabakh still faced "the danger of ethnic cleansing".
Armenia "will lovingly welcome our brothers and sisters from Nagorno-Karabakh," Pashinyan said, according to Russia's TASS news agency.
A mass exodus could change the delicate balance of power in the South Caucasus region, a patchwork of ethnicities crisscrossed with oil and gas pipelines where Russia, the United States, Turkey and Iran are jostling for influence.