India: Blast in Nagorno-Karabakh injures more than 200, as thousands flee to Armenia : NPR
YEREVAN, Armenia – A powerful explosion rocked the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region on Monday night as ethnic Armenians rushed out of the conflict zone after the Azerbaijani military regained full control in a light offensive last week.
The explosion at a fuel storage facility near the regional capital Stepanakert injured 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 explosion, which occurred as residents were preparing to get fuel for their cars to leave the area.
Most of the victims were in “very serious or serious condition”, Stepanyan said, adding that the victims had to be taken out of the area for medical treatment to save their lives. save It was not immediately clear if there were any deaths.
The Azerbaijani military engaged Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz last week, forcing the separatist authorities to agree to lay down weapons and start talks on the “reunification” of Nagorno-Karabakh. the Azerbaijan after three decades of separatist rule.
While Azerbaijan has promised to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and restore supplies after a 10-month suspension, many local residents feared reprisals and decided to leave for Armenia.
The Armenian government said more than 6,500 residents of Nagorno-Karabakh had fled to Armenia on Monday night. Moscow said Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh were helping with the evacuation. About 700 people stayed in the peacekeepers camp there on Monday night.
Twitter account of Siranush Sargsyan via AP
Dozens of people were lining up at the fuel facility where the explosion happened because they had been promised fuel – in short supply during the blockade – for their cars to move to Armenia, according to Nagorno-Karabakh separatist authorities.
The explosion occurred hours after the second round of talks between Azerbaijani officials and separatist representatives took place on 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 the discussion focused on humanitarian aid to the region and medical services.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on Monday that two of its soldiers were killed a day earlier when an armored truck hit a land mine. He did not name the area where the explosion took place.
In a speech to the nation on Sunday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his government was working with international partners to protect the rights and security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“If these efforts do not bring concrete results, the government will welcome our sisters and brothers from Nagorno-Karabakh in the Republic of Armenia with all care,” he said.
Demonstrators demanding Pashinyan’s resignation over what they say has failed to protect Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh continued to block the main roads of the Armenian capital on Monday, going -against the police from time to time.
Russian peacekeepers have been in the region since 2020, when a ceasefire brokered by Russia ended a six-week war between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinyan and many others in Armenia accused the peacekeepers of failing to stop the hostilities and protect the Armenian people. Moscow rejected the accusations, arguing that its forces had no legal reason to intervene, especially after Pashinyan recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.
“We are definitely against attempts to place the blame on the Russian side, especially the Russian peacekeepers, who have shown great bravery,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call. by reporters.
He protested when asked if Russian peacekeepers would remain in the area, saying “nobody can say anything for now.”
The conflict goes back decades
Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, supported by the Armenian military, in a separatist fight that ended in 1994. During the war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with the territory around which the Armenian forces had applied during the war in 2020 the earlier conflict.
In December, Azerbaijan blocked the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging that the Armenian government was using the road for mineral extraction and illegal arms shipments to forces separatist of the region.
Armenia is accused of denying basic food and fuel supplies to around 120,000 people in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, arguing that the region could receive supplies through the city of Aghdam in Aghdam – a solution long opposed by the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, who called it a strategy for Azerbaijan to gain control of the area.
On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged support to Armenia and Armenians, saying that France will move food and medical aid to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, and will continue to work towards “sustainable peace” in the share.
France, which has a large Armenian diaspora, has been at the center of Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. A few hundred people gathered outside the French Foreign Ministry over the weekend, calling for sanctions against Azerbaijan and accusing Paris of not doing enough to protect Armenian interests in the region.
“France is very attentive to the territorial integrity of Armenia because that is what is at stake,” Macron said in an interview with France-2 and TF1 television, accusing Russia of being linked to Azerbaijan and accusing Turkey threatens Armenia’s borders.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, visited Azerbaijan on Monday to support his friend.
Russia has been a major ally and supporter of Armenia and has a military base there, but has also tried to maintain friendly ties with Azerbaijan. But Moscow’s position in the region has declined rapidly amid Russia’s war in Ukraine while the influence of Azerbaijan’s main ally, Turkey, has increased.
Erdogan arrived in Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave on Monday for talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss Turkey-Azerbaijan ties and regional and global issues. Nakhchivan is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by the territory ofArmenia but shares a narrow border with Turkey.
Erdogan and Aliyev signed a contract for a gas pipeline and the Turkish leader said “I am very happy to be with you all as we connect Nakhchivan to the Turkish world.” “
Asked about Erdogan’s visit, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said he hoped it would “contribute to regional security and help normalize life in Karabakh.”
Aliyev, at a press conference with Erdogan, said, “It is clear that, regardless of their ethnicity, the people living in the Karabakh region are Azerbaijani people and therefore their safety and security is ensure with the Azerbaijani state.”
Meanwhile, the head of the US Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, visited Armenia on Monday to “affirm US support for Armenia’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and democracy and to help address the needs of humanity as a result of the recent violence in Nagorno-Karabakh,” her office said in a statement. She was accompanied by US State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim.
“The United States is deeply concerned by reports of the humanitarian conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh and calls for unhindered access for international humanitarian agencies and commercial traffic,” USAID said.
At the United Nations, spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters that the world body is concerned about the influx of people into Armenia. “If we, like the UN, get access, we are ready to assess humanitarian needs and provide support to affected people,” he said. When asked if the UN was prepared to take any further action take, he said that “the focus right now is on possible humanitarian aid.”