YEREVAN—Amidst the humanitarian crisis in Artsakh and Azerbaijan’s national policy of the ethnic cleansing of its Armenian population, forcing thousands to flee their homeland, a powerful explosion ripped through a fuel storage facility near Stepanakert on Monday.
Hundreds of people were lining up at the fuel facility where the blast occurred, because they had been promised fuel – a scarcity during the over nine-month long blockade – for their cars in order to move to Armenia.
As a result of the explosion, 290 patients were admitted to different hospitals with various degrees of burns. According to the Ministry of Health of Artsakh, at least seven patients have died in the hospital. Dozens are still in critical condition. 13 unrecognized bodies were transferred to the Bureau of Forensic Examination. Many people are considered missing, because they were burned as a result of the explosion.
Former State Minister and Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh Artak Beglaryan reported that on Tuesday, 168 patients wounded in the fuel depot explosion were evacuated to Yerevan – 96 by Armenian and Russian helicopters and 72 by Armenian ambulances with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross. There are 68 confirmed deaths. Meanwhile, the bodies of 125 soldiers who gave their lives protecting Artsakh were transferred to Armenia on Wednesday. According to consolidated data from requests to information centers in Artsakh, the fate of 105 Armenians as a result of the explosion is unknown.
🔴The situation in the hospitals of #Stepanakert is absolutely catastrophic!
Shortages of medical staff, panic, people trying to find their loved ones from the blast. Very high number of injured individuals.
🔴We need urgent helicopter airlifting ASAP, otherwise many will die! pic.twitter.com/6l6OCEckXN
— Siranush Sargsyan (@SiranushSargsy1) September 25, 2023
Weekly contributor Siranush Sargsyan said that the situation in Artsakh’s hospitals following the explosion is “catastrophic.” “Shortages of medical staff, panic, people trying to find their loved ones from the blast,” she wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
The explosion took place hours after the second round of talks between Azerbaijani officials and Artsakh representatives was held Monday in the town of Ivanyan, just north of Stepanakert. The first round was held last week in Yevlakh, where an agreement was reached on the withdrawal of the remaining units and servicemen of the Armed Forces of Armenia from Artsakh, the disbandment and complete disarmament of the Artsakh Defense Army, and the removal of heavy equipment and weapons from the territory of Artsakh.
The agreement was reached 24 hours after Azerbaijan launched an assault on Artsakh on September 19, heavily shelling civilian settlements and infrastructure. Azerbaijan’s military offensive and bombardment of civilians claimed many lives, enabled mass displacement and triggered turmoil across the region.
Another major humanitarian crisis is looming on the horizon. As of Wednesday afternoon, about 50,000 Armenians have been forced to flee their homes in Artsakh in the fear of living under Azerbaijani rule, among a population of 120,000. Although Azerbaijan has made numerous statements about the “peaceful integration” of ethnic Armenians into Azerbaijani society, decades of conflict and atrocities and recent events have proven otherwise.
Multiple videos circulating on Telegram channels show inhumane acts carried out by Azerbaijani soldiers against ethnic Armenian civilians, soldiers and establishments. Two Azerbaijani soldiers fired at a 13th-century monastery in the village of Charektar in the Shahumyan region of Artsakh, Caucasus Heritage Watch reported on X on Wednesday. “Such attacks are a direct violation of the International Court of Justice’s provisional measure on Armenian cultural heritage and must be investigated and brought to justice,” the organization said in a statement.
While the ethnic cleansing policy of Azerbaijan continues to threaten the lives of the ethnic Armenians remaining in the region, thousands of families have been forced to flee their homes, only taking items of importance – leaving their family homes and their livelihood behind. In order to honor his memory and prevent its desecration by Azerbaijan, citizens have reportedly removed the monument of the national hero Monte Melkonyan in the Martuni region of Artsakh and plan to take it with them to Armenia.
The mass exodus of Armenians from Artsakh is only the start of another serious humanitarian crisis. As families flee to save their and their children’s lives from another genocide, traffic jams on the road to Kornidzor have already caused the death of an elderly man.
Following long hours of travel, Armenians from Artsakh must go through the checkpoint illegally placed by Azerbaijan on the Hakari Bridge at the entrance to the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor to reach the registration and first aid centers that have been set up by the Red Cross and local organizations.
The small village of Kornidzor in Armenia’s southernmost Syunik region has become the first stop on the way of the forced migration of Armenians from Artsakh. Due to the shortage of fuel and buses, thousands of people arrive in Armenia sitting in the back of trucks.
The first point of registration for the people of Artsakh was in the town of Goris until Tuesday night, when humanitarian organizations announced that due to the high volume of individuals coming from Artsakh, the resources in Goris have reached capacity, and the new point of registration will now be in Vayk.
Volunteers on the ground in Syunik advise all Armenians to register their problems in detail at the registration points including medical, psychological and domestic. They also advise that all individuals request a medical examination and that those who are collecting aid send warm clothes that can be distributed to the people during registration ahead of the cold winter months.
As this humanitarian crisis unfolds, the Armenian Weekly will continue to follow developments and provide firsthand reporting on families displaced from Artsakh.