Hundreds injured in a fuel depot explosion in Nagorno-Karabakh

Hundreds injured in a fuel depot explosion in Nagorno-Karabakh

Refugees wait on a bus after registering at the Armenian Foreign Ministry office near the Kurendzor border board, on September 24, 2023.Photo by Agence France-Presse

A large explosion occurred in a fuel warehouse north of the capital, Stepanakert, on Monday evening, according to Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to authorities, many people were queuing for gasoline at the time of the explosion because they wanted to flee to Armenia. An unknown number of people were said to have been killed and at least two hundred injured. It is not known what caused the explosion.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s healthcare system faces significant shortages of medicines and equipment. Human Rights Ombudsman Jegam Stepanjan is therefore calling on the international community to airlift the injured to hospitals abroad.

The mass exodus from the Armenian enclave inhabited by a Christian majority in Muslim Azerbaijan follows the attack launched by the Azerbaijani army last week. 120,000 Armenians live in the region. A large number of them are expected to flee to neighboring Armenia.

That country has already announced that it will welcome refugees from this enclave with open arms. On Monday morning, the leadership in Nagorno-Karabakh reiterated the message that all Armenians who want to do so will have the opportunity to leave.

About the author
Michel Maas is the foreign editor of the magazine De Volkskrant. He was previously a war correspondent and correspondent in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

The exodus of Armenians began late on Sunday evening: the first refugees crossed the border at 10 p.m. They were said to be immediately transferred to homes made available by the authorities in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. By Monday evening, the number of refugees had risen to 4,850, according to the government. Local media even reported that the number was close to seven thousand.

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The first group of refugees will consist of people who have been made homeless due to the fighting that took place last week. It is not known how many people still intend to leave Stepanakert.

Fear of ethnic cleansing

According to David Babayan, an advisor to the Armenian leadership in Nagorno-Karabakh, “99.9 percent” of the 120,000 Armenians want to leave. They fear ethnic cleansing and have little confidence in the promise made by Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev that Armenians in the enclave will be treated well and that their rights will be guaranteed.

Azerbaijan invaded local forces in Nagorno-Karabakh last week and forced them to surrender their weapons. An official ceasefire has since come into effect.

Negotiations also took place on Thursday regarding the future of Nagorno-Karabakh. These negotiations have not yet yielded results. The exodus proves that people, at the moment, do not believe in reaching a positive outcome from new discussions.

Russia’s role

Russia, which deploys about 2,000 peacekeeping soldiers in the enclave, held Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan responsible for Azerbaijan’s victory on Monday. Moscow has been an ally of Armenia for years, but accuses Pashinyan of taking an increasingly pro-Western course. The Prime Minister accused the Kremlin on Sunday of abandoning Armenia.

“We are convinced that the leadership in Yerevan is making a grave mistake by deliberately trying to destroy Armenia’s multifaceted and ancient relations with Russia and making the country a hostage of the West’s geopolitical games,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. According to Moscow, Armenia should have cooperated with Russia and Azerbaijan to resolve the crisis.

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