At least 20 people killed in fuel depot blast as thousands of Armenians flee disputed region

At least 20 people have been killed in an explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, as thousands of ethnic Armenians fled the mountainous region.

A further 290 people were admitted to hospitals, dozens of them in critical condition, Armenian authorities said.

The blast happened on Monday night in the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh – a city which is known as Stepanakert by Armenia and Khankendi by Azerbaijan.

It occurred as 13,550 people crossed into Armenia from the breakaway region – also known by Armenians as the Republic of Artsakh – according to Russia’s Tass news agency, which citied Armenia’s government.

“The health condition of the majority is severe or extremely severe,” said the human rights ombudsman for the Republic of Artsakh, Gegham Stepanyan, adding that Nagorno-Karabakh did not have the medical capacity to deal with the injured.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blast, which happened as people were lining up to get fuel for their heavily laden cars in order to leave the region.

Nagorno-Karabakh is located entirely within Azerbaijan but has a mainly ethnic Armenian population, currently about 120,000 people, who have been living in the region for more than 2,000 years. Since a war in 1994 the enclave has been governed autonomously, but last week Azerbaijan seized back control in a swift military operation.

Local Armenian soldiers were forced to declare a ceasefire last Wednesday and thousands of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are now leaving their homes.

Azerbaijan has pledged to respect the rights of the local population and restore supplies after a 10-month blockade, but Armenians have decided to leave, fearing reprisals and violent ethnic cleansing.

Dr Kevork Oskanian, an expert in the region from the University of Exeter, said the enclave “will likely be ethnically cleansed of its Armenian inhabitants within a matter of weeks”.

He added: “It remains to be seen how Armenia – a country of at most 2.8 million – will be able to absorb such a massive inflow of refugees, many of whom are in a dire situation; a concerted effort at providing humanitarian aid should be the main priority.”

Dr Melanie O’Brien, president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, said Azerbaijan is failing to deliver on its promises to deliver food and fuel to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *