Blast in Nagorno-Karabakh injures, hundreds flee to Armenia

A powerful explosion rocked the Nagorno-Karabakh region on Monday evening, causing significant casualties and further turmoil as ethnic Armenians continued to leave the area following the recent Azerbaijani military offensive.

The explosion occurred at a fuel storage facility near the regional capital of Stepanakert, leaving more than 200 people wounded, according to Nagorno-Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, Gegham Stepanyan.

Most victims were reported to be in “severe or extremely severe” condition. It remains unclear if there were any fatalities.

Last week, the Azerbaijani military launched a swift offensive that led to the surrender of Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. This development resulted in an agreement for Nagorno-Karabakh’s “reintegration” into Azerbaijan after decades of separatist rule. While Azerbaijan has promised to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and to restore supplies after a 10-month blockade, many residents decided to leave for Armenia, fearing possible reprisals.

The Armenian government reported that over 6,500 Nagorno-Karabakh residents had fled to Armenia by Monday evening. Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh were assisting with the evacuation process, with around 700 people remaining in their camp as of Monday night.

The explosion occurred shortly after the second round of talks between Azerbaijani officials and separatist representatives, focusing on humanitarian aid and medical services for the region, was held in Khojaly. The first round of negotiations took place last week.

In an address on Sunday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that his government was collaborating with international partners to ensure the rights and security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Still, protests demanding Pashinyan’s resignation over his “perceived failure” to protect Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh continued in the Armenian capital on Monday, occasionally leading to clashes with the police.

Nagorno-Karabakh had been controlled by ethnic Armenian forces, supported by the Armenian military, since the end of the separatist war in 1994. However, during the 2020 conflict, Azerbaijan regained parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories that Armenian forces had claimed in the earlier conflict.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Azerbaijan on Monday to support the ally. Russia has been Armenia’s primary ally and sponsor, hosting a military base in the country.

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