Explosion Kills 68 Armenian Refugees as Thousands Flee Nagorno-Karabakh
A fuel depot exploded Monday night. The explosion occurred just off a highway leading away from Stepanakert, where tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians have taken to the road to flee to Armenia proper.
As thousands of ethnic Armenians flee the Nagorno-Karabakh region following a violent takeover by Azerbaijan, a fuel depot exploded Monday night killing at least 68 refugees and injuring hundreds.
Officials representing the people of Nagorno-Karabakh confirmed the casualties in a Facebook statement, adding that the fate of 105 Nagorno-Karabakh refugees is still unknown.
The explosion occurred just off a highway leading away from Stepanakert, where tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians have taken to the road to flee to Armenia proper.
Local news source the Nagorno Karabakh Observer reported the explosion blew up a 50-ton underground fuel tank.
Following a short but intense military offensive by Azerbaijan on Sept. 19, ethnic Armenians, who until last week claimed self-sovereignty under the auspices of the Republic of Artsakh, are in a panic to escape Azeri rule.
The Azeri assault, which they labeled “antiterror measures,” came after a nine-month blockade that cut off all outside food, medicine and supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Though Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has said he wishes to integrate the ethnic Armenians, human-rights experts have warned he intends to ethnically cleanse the region. Some advocates, such as Eric Hacopian, who has been on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh, accused the Azeris of pursuing “genocide” against the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Since last week a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians fleeing their ancestral homeland in Nagorno-Karabakh has begun.
Hacopian said that he expects “95% to 99%” of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to flee the region.
The Armenian government reported on Tuesday that already 28,120 “forcibly displaced persons” from Nagorno-Karabakh have crossed into Armenia.
Footage published by the Nagorno Karabakh Observer on Tuesday showed what appears to be a miles-long line of cars attempting to escape the region for Armenia.
“The normal travel time of two hours [is] now taking 20 or more,” the Nagorno Karabakh Observer reported Tuesday, adding that “kids [are] the hardest hit, with little food after months of blockade.”
According to the Nagorno Karabakh Observer, “cars are literally halted, as vehicles [are] checked one-by-one by Azeri officials.”
Adrienne Watson, a White House National Security Council spokesperson, responded to the explosion in a Tuesday statement.
“We are saddened by the news that at least 68 people have been killed and hundreds injured in an explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh and express deep sympathy to the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh and to all of those suffering,” Watson said. “We urge continued humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh for all those in need.”
Watson pointed out that Samantha Power, chief administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is currently on the ground in Armenia and announced the U.S. would be sending “additional humanitarian assistance,” including hygiene kits, blankets, and clothing, “to address the needs of those affected or displaced by violence in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
“Since 2020, we have supported the provision of food, water, emergency medical care, and evacuations, and family reunifications for conflict-affected communities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the region,” Watson went on. “The United States will continue to support those affected by the ongoing crisis as 28,000 people have crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh.”
What is going on?
Both former Soviet territories, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. With the backing of Turkey, Azerbaijan asserted its military dominance over Armenia in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which ended in November 2020.
Though Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the region is almost entirely made up of ethnic Armenian Christians.
After the Azeri assault last week, the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh agreed on Sept. 20 to a cease-fire that resulted in the dismantling of their military and self-governance.
Some experts believe that Armenia itself is in danger of invasion by Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey in the near future.
Hacopian said he believes an invasion of Armenia is “quite likely.”