Tragedy Strikes Nagorno-Karabakh as Fuel Depot Explosion Claims 20 Lives


Nagorno-Karabakh — A devastating explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh has resulted in a tragic loss of 20 lives and left hundreds wounded, according to local Armenian authorities.

Close to 300 individuals have been hospitalized, with many of them still grappling with critical injuries. The incident occurred on Monday evening near Khankendi, the enclave's principal city recognized as Stepanakert by Armenians. The cause of the explosion remains uncertain.

As the Armenian government reported an influx of 13,350 refugees from the region, the disputed territory in Azerbaijan, predominantly inhabited by around 120,000 ethnic Armenians, grapples with this profound tragedy.

Petrol stations in the region were inundated as thousands sought to evacuate, compounding existing fuel shortages due to a prolonged blockade. Local officials disclosed that 13 bodies remain unidentified at the blast site, while seven more succumbed to their injuries in hospitals. Medical teams are laboring under challenging conditions to treat 290 patients afflicted with varying degrees of burns.

Gegham Stepanyan, Human Rights Ombudsman, took to social media to highlight the severity of the victims' conditions, emphasizing the inadequacy of medical resources in Nagorno-Karabakh. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have dispatched medical aid to assist.

Since Azerbaijan's recent takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh, a significant exodus has unfolded in response to the Armenian government's plans to resettle those displaced by the conflict. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia voiced concerns of ethnic cleansing in the region, a claim contested by Azerbaijan, which asserts its intent to reintegrate ethnic Armenians as equals.

Samantha Power, the head of the US Agency for International Development, urged Azerbaijan to uphold the ceasefire and safeguard the rights of Nagorno-Karabakh's civilian populace.

Refugees arriving in the city of Goris, Armenia, conveyed their profound distress. One man, who devoted his life to his homeland, expressed a sentiment shared by many: "It would be better if they killed me than this." A woman named Veronica recounted that this marked her second time as a refugee, the first being during the 2020 conflict.

The sole road linking Armenia to the enclave remains congested with hundreds of vehicles, transporting ethnic Armenians seeking to depart. Envoys from Armenia and Azerbaijan are slated to convene in Brussels for European Union-backed talks, marking the first diplomatic dialogue between the two nations since Azerbaijan's seizure of the enclave.

Representatives from both sides will be accompanied by their national security advisors. Negotiations have also commenced between Azerbaijan and the ethnic-Armenian authorities of Karabakh regarding the region's future.

Nagorno-Karabakh, situated in the South Caucasus, holds international recognition as part of Azerbaijan, yet it has been under the control of ethnic Armenians for thirty years. Armenia and its ally, Russia, have supported the enclave, with Russian peacekeeping forces stationed there for the past three years.

Tragically, five Russian peacekeepers, along with over 200 ethnic Armenians and numerous Azerbaijani soldiers, lost their lives during Azerbaijan's recent incursion. Despite assurances from Azerbaijan, concerns persist for the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh. Only one aid shipment of 70 tonnes of food has been permitted since separatists accepted the ceasefire and agreed to disarm.

Azerbaijan announced the dispatch of another aid convoy, carrying 40 tonnes of flour and essential hygiene items, to the enclave. Ethnic Armenian leaders stress that thousands are without sustenance or shelter, seeking refuge in basements, schools, or in the open.