The devastating explosion at the Stepanakert fuel depot on September 25, 2023

Karabakh’s Death Toll Close to 500

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By Ruzanna Stepanian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — More than 220 residents of Nagorno-Karabakh were killed during last month’s Azerbaijani military offensive and at least as many others died in the subsequent explosion at a local fuel depot, a Karabakh official said over the weekend.

Over 200 of them are Karabakh soldiers killed in action on September 19-20, Hunan Tadevosyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service in Yerevan. Two dozen other victims of the hostilities are Karabakh civilians who died as a result of Azerbaijani shelling of their communities.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry has acknowledged over 200 combat deaths among its military personnel involved in the operation. Its troops greatly outnumbered and outgunned Karabakh’s small army that received no military support from Armenia. Karabakh’s leadership agreed to disband the Defense Army in return for Baku stopping the assault and allowing the region’s ethnic Armenian population to flee to Armenia.

The exodus began amid chaotic scenes blamed for the September 25 explosion at the gasoline depot outside Stepanakert. With fuel in extremely short supply in Karabakh even before the Azerbaijani attack, hundreds of cars converged on the facility to fuel up and proceed to Armenia.

Tadevosyan said the powerful blast and a fire sparked by it killed at least 220 people and left 50 others missing. About 150 bodies were burned beyond recognition, he said, adding that DNA tests are being carried out in Yerevan to identify them.

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Hundreds of other Karabakh Armenians were injured by the blast. Tadevosyan said Karabakh authorities that are now exiled in Armenia continue to believe that it was most likely the result of human negligence, rather than a deliberate attack. The authorities failed to organize an orderly distribution of the fuel stored in the depot because of panic caused by fears that Azerbaijani troops could enter Stepanakert at any moment, he said.

“People were desperate to get out [of Karabakh] as soon as possible and save their families,” added the spokesperson for the Karabakh interior ministry.

 

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