Chaos, exodus and explosion in Karabakh amid ethnic cleansing

Explosion at a gas station in Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh. September 25, 2023.

The opening of the Lachin corridor on Sunday was followed by the mass exodus of Karabakh Armenians to Armenia and a fuel warehouse explosion, leaving hundreds wounded and an unclear number of dead.

The explosion took place in the area where hundreds of Karabakh residents had gathered to wait their turn to get enough fuel to cross into Armenia.

According to locals, there was no organized evacuation by local authorities, which caused additional chaos in the region’s captial Stepanakert.

The exact number of casualties remains unclear, and authorities in Stepanakert have called for an urgent airlift to save the lives of those injured. According to reports, most wounded are in serious or critical condition.

“Nagorno-Karabakh’s medical capacities are not enough to save the people’s lives”, the region’s Ombudsman, Gegham Stepanyan, wrote on Facebook.

Karabakh residents described the situation in the local hospitals as “catastrophic”. Doctors in the scene stated the region lacked the medical resources and staff to care for patients with serious injuries.

Armenia’s Ministry of Health stated that “all possible measures” were being taken to organise the evacuation of the injured “through land or air”, but the “night and weather conditions” were obstructing the evacuations.

Baku stated it had sent medical aid to Stepanakert following the explosion.

Ethnic cleansing underway

The number of Karabakh Armenians fleeing Stepanakert following Azerbaijan’s large-scale attack on the region last week continues to grow. As of 17:00 local time on Monday, 6650 Armenians had arrived in Syunik, Armenia. Many more are expected to follow in the coming days, making the warnings of ethnic cleansing a reality in Karabakh.

Pictures and footage showed heavy traffic on the Stepanakert-Goris highway, with thousands of vehicles chaotically heading towards Armenia the moment the Lachin corridor was opened for civilians. Authorities in Stepanakert announced that “everyone who wished to leave”, would be allowed to.

Davit Babayan, the adviser to Nagorno-Karabakh’s president, said on Sunday that “99.9 percent” of the local Armenian population would want to leave, not imagining life under Azerbaijani rule.

The Armenian government set up tents in Kornidzor, not far from the entrance of the corridor, welcoming the civilians and arranging their transfer to Yerevan. Yerevan announced that Armenia will be ready to host 40 thousand Karabakh Armenian families, almost as much as the region’s population.

Armenia’s southern Syunik region became the first stop for the evacuees, some of whom are being settled in temporary houses. According to Syunik Governor Robert Ghukasyan, the region has set up mobile medical centers and ambulances, ready to aid evacuees. The needs assessment for the refugees is also being carried out in Syunik as soon as they arrive, Yerevan reported.

Ironically, authorities in Baku and Stepanakert continue talks over the “integration” of Armenians in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan had invited local Armenian civil society organizations and civilians to Baku for “confidence-building” initiatives.

Azerbaijani media reported on Monday that Baku arrested Karabakh Armenians last week on charges of sabotage, which was Azerbaijan’s pretext for launching its full-scale military offensive. Karabakh authorities had no information about the detainees, saying that the number of missing since the military assault is high and it’s impossible to identify them. Baku did not give details about those arrested, either.

Azerbaijan’s military offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh killed at least 200 hundred, wounding another 400. The number of casualties, however, remains incomplete as authorities continue to carry out search and rescue operations in the villages and cities of Nagorno-Karabakh.