An explosion at a fuel depot in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh left at least 20 dead and more than 300 injured. The cause of the incident, last Monday night (25), is still unknown.

The tragedy occurred at a gas storage facility near the Stepanakert-Askeran highway. Hundreds of people who were queuing to refuel their cars before leaving the region were hit.

Armenian Human Rights Commissioner Gegham Stepanyan reported that the health status of most of the injured was “serious or very serious”. According to him, Nagorno-Karabakh’s medical capabilities are not sufficient.

The explosion occurred amid the mass evacuation of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist enclave with an Armenian majority that has claimed independence from Azerbaijan since 1994. On September 19, Azerbaijan began a military operation in the region. The risk of a new large-scale war ended up resulting in a truce agreement less than 24 hours after the attacks began. In practice, it was a capitulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh forces.

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With Azerbaijan taking control over Nagorno-Karabakh, thousands of Armenians began to evacuate from the territory towards Armenia last Sunday (24). According to the latest estimates, more than 20 thousand people have already left the region. The evacuation caused kilometer-long traffic jams on roads connecting Karabakh to Armenia. The region is mainly inhabited by ethnic Armenians, making up a population of around 120 thousand people.

“For three days, on the government’s initiative, accommodation centers have been operating [para deslocados de Karabakh], registration of citizens is underway. So far, 20,270 people have been registered,” said Armenian Prime Minister’s spokesman Nazeli Baghdasaryan.

Armenian Prime Minister denounces ‘ethnic cleansing’

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated last Monday (25) that there is “ongoing ethnic cleansing” against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. The statement was made during a meeting with the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Yuri Kim, and the head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Samantha Power, in Yerevan.

“You know that, unfortunately, at this moment the process of ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh continues, is happening at this moment. This is a very tragic fact. We tried to inform the international community that this ethnic cleansing would happen, but unfortunately, we couldn’t avoid it,” Pashinyan said.

Group of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh evacuate to Armenia on September 25, 2023 after Azerbaijan’s lightning attack on the separatist region / Alain Jocard / AFP

According to him, tensions in the region continue to grow. “Now it is very important to take concrete measures to avoid further escalation and even bigger problems,” Pashinyan noted.

The situation of the Armenian population in the separatist region had already been critical over the last nine months amid an escalation of tension between Baku and Yerevan. In December 2022, Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, leaving the enclave’s population isolated.

At the same time, Baku interrupted the supply of gas, food and medicine to Karabakh, which has been seen as a violation of the 2020 ceasefire agreement, as well as a way of forcing an exodus of the Armenian population from the region.

Editing: Patrícia de Matos


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