An explosion in Artsakh (AP photo)

Blast in Nagorno-Karabakh Injures More Than 200 as Thousands Flee to Armenia

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YEREVAN (AP/Panorama.am) — At least 20, and possibly up to 100, people  are dead in the aftermath of an Artsakh fuel depot blast on Monday, September 25, Artsakh’s former Ombudsman and State Minister Artak Beglaryan said.

An explosion in Artsakh (AP photo)

The Artsakh Ministry of Health said 13 unidentified bodies were found at the scene and seven more died in hospital.

“Many have gone missing, with witnesses estimating that over 100 people were fully burned in the fire,” Beglaryan said in a social media post on Tuesday.

“A medical helicopter arrived from Armenia to evacuate the injured,” he added.

The explosion at fuel storage facility near the regional capital of Stepanakert wounded more than 200 people, Nagorno-Karabakh human rights ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan said on X, formerly known as Twitter. It was not immediately clear what caused the blast, which happened as residents were lining up to get fuel for their cars in order to leave the region.

The majority of the victims were in “severe or extremely severe” condition, Stepanyan said, adding that the victims would need to be airlifted out of the region for medical treatment to save their lives. It was not immediately clear if there were any deaths.

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The precise cause of the blast remained unknown. An official in Stepanakert, Davit Babayan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the authorities there believe it was most likely an accident caused by “negligence.” He said they are hardly in a position to conduct an investigation given the ongoing exodus of Karabakh’s population to Armenia and Azerbaijan’s takeover of the region.

The Azerbaijani military routed Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz last week, forcing the separatist authorities to agree to lay down weapons and start talks on Nagorno-Karabakh’s “reintegration” into Azerbaijan after three decades of separatist rule.

While Azerbaijan has pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and restore supplies after a 10-month blockade, many local residents feared reprisals and decided to leave for Armenia.

The Armenian government said that more 6,500 Nagorno-Karabakh residents had fled to Armenia as of Monday evening. Moscow said that Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh were assisting the evacuation. Some 700 people remained in the peacekeepers’ camp there by Monday night.

Ethnic Armenians wait near Kornidzor to leave (Vasily Krestyaninov/AP © Provided by The Irish News)

Dozens of people were lining up at the fuel facility where the blast occurred because they had been promised fuel — a scarcity during the blockade — for their cars in order to move to Armenia, according to Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist authorities.

The explosion took place hours after the second round of talks between Azerbaijani officials and separatist representatives was held Monday in the town of Khojaly, just north of the Nagorno-Karabakh capital. The first round was held last week. Azerbaijan’s presidential office said in a statement that the talks were held “in a constructive atmosphere” and that discussion focused on humanitarian aid to the region and medical services.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the meantime, visited Azerbaijan on Monday in a show of support to its ally.

Russia has been the main ally and sponsor of Armenia and has a military base there, but it also has sought to maintain friendly ties with Azerbaijan. But Moscow’s clout in the region has waned quickly amid the Russian war in Ukraine while the influence of Azerbaijan’s top ally Turkey has increased.

Thousands of Armenians have streamed out of Nagorno-Karabakh (Stepan Poghosyan, Photolure photo/AP © Provided by The Irish News)

Erdogan arrived in Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave on Monday for talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss Turkey-Azerbaijan ties and regional and global issues. Nakhichevan is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory but forms a slim border with Turkey.

Erdogan and Aliyev signed a deal for a gas pipeline and the Turkish leader said “I’m very pleased to be with all of you as we connect Nakhichevan with the Turkish world.”

Aliyev, at a news conference with Erdogan, said “It is crystal clear that, independent of their ethnicity, the people living in the Karabakh region are Azerbaijani people so their safety and security is ensured by the Azerbaijani state.”

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