Nagorno-Karabakh: Almost a quarter of the region’s population flees to Armenia – The Guardian

‘I will never return’: Thousands flee Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan gains control – Nagorno-Karabakh video report

The death toll from Monday’s fuel depot explosion rises to 68 as ethnic Armenians express concern about reprisals from Azerbaijan

Guardianship staff and agencies

Wed, September 27, 2023, 00:59 BST

According to the Armenian government, almost a quarter of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population has fled to Armenia since Azerbaijan launched an attack on the breakaway region last week.

Some 28,000 people – about 23% of the region’s population – were forced to flee as soon as Azerbaijan lifted a 10-month blockade of the region’s only road to Armenia. This blockade had led to severe shortages of food, medicine and fuel. While Azerbaijan has committed to respecting the rights of Armenians, many residents feared reprisals.

The updated figures were released as the death toll from an explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh rose to 68, with another 105 people missing and nearly 300 injured, the Karabakh ombudsman’s office said.

“I will never return”: Death haunts the exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh

The explosion occurred late Monday as people lined up to refuel their cars at a gas station outside Stepanakert, the region’s capital. The cause of the explosion remains unclear, but adviser to Nagorno-Karabakh’s president David Babayan said initial information suggested the blast was due to negligence, adding that sabotage was unlikely.

Armenian authorities also said they had brought 125 bodies from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia for identification. The country’s Health Ministry clarified that all of these people were killed in fighting last week.

Azerbaijani presidential adviser Hikmet Hajiyev said on X, formerly Twitter, that hospitals in Azerbaijan were ready to treat victims, but did not say whether any had been taken there.

A satellite image shows a long traffic jam along the Lachin corridor as ethnic Armenians flee the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Photo: Maxar Technologies/Portal

Azerbaijan also said on Tuesday that 30 tons of gasoline and 34 tons of diesel fuel would be sent to the region.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to refrain from further hostilities in the region, provide assurances to residents and allow access to an international observer mission.

US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the US would provide additional assistance to help local communities “provide shelter and essential supplies – such as hygiene products, blankets and clothing – to meet the needs of those affected by violence or displaced persons in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

The Azerbaijani military routed Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz last week, forcing separatist authorities to agree to a layoff and start talks on “reintegrating” Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan.

There have been fuel shortages in Stepanakert for months, and the depot explosion further exacerbated the shortage, increasing concerns among many residents about whether they would be able to drive the 35 kilometers to the border.

On Tuesday, cars with heavy loads on their roofs crowded the streets of Stepanakert, and residents stood or lay on sidewalks next to piles of luggage.

Nagorno-Karabakh authorities urged residents to wait to leave to keep the road clear for emergency services and said buses would be provided for those who wanted to leave.

“I think we will see the vast majority of people in Karabakh leave for Armenia,” said Thomas de Waal, senior fellow at think tank Carnegie Europe. “They are being asked to integrate into Azerbaijan, a country they have never belonged to. Most of them don’t even speak the language and are being asked to dismantle their local institutions. This is an offer that most people in Karabakh will not accept.”

Nagorno-Karabakh was an autonomous region within Azerbaijan under the Soviet Union. After a six-year separatist war that ended in 1994, the region came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces supported by the Armenian military.

In another war in 2020, Azerbaijan captured parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and fully recaptured surrounding areas it had previously lost. As part of the ceasefire that ended fighting in 2020, Russia sent a peacekeeping force of about 2,000 troops to the region. Russia’s influence in the region has waned in the wake of the war in Ukraine, emboldening Azerbaijan and its key ally Turkey.

The Associated Press and Portal contributed to this report


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