Death toll in Nagorno-Karabakh fuel depot blast jumps to 170

Sept 29 2023

At least 170 people are now known to have died in a huge explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday.

The announcement marks a sharp rise from the authorities' previous estimate of 68 deaths.

Remains found at the scene of the blast will now be sent to Armenia to identify the victims through DNA analysis.

Ethnic Armenians were queueing at overwhelmed petrol stations, desperate to leave the territory after it surrendered to Azerbaijan.

The authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said rescue teams were continuing to search the area.

It is not yet clear what caused the explosion on the evening of September 25 near the main city of Khankendi, known as Stepanakert by Armenians.

Hospitals were struggling to treat the 290 people injured in the blast after an effective blockade since December 2022 left them with severe shortages of medical supplies. Some of the injured have now been evacuated by Armenian helicopters.

  • Explained: The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh
  • Nagorno-Karabakh will cease to exist, says leader

There has been a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians since its leaders signed a ceasefire agreement with Azerbaijan last week.

Armenia says 88,780 of the territory's estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians have fled so far.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has warned that the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh could leave.

"They're full of anxiety, they're scared, they're frightened and they want answers," UNHCR Armenia representative Kavita Belani said about the tens of thousands arriving in Armenia.

Western governments have been pressing Azerbaijan to allow international observers into Karabakh to monitor its treatment of the local population but access has not yet been given.

Azerbaijan said it would allow a group of UN experts into the territory in the coming days.

The Azerbaijani government has said he wants to integrate the region's population as "equal citizens" and dismissed allegations of ethnic cleansing levelled by Armenia.

Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist leader said the breakaway republic and its institutions will "cease to exist" from next year.

Local forces in Karabakh agreed to be disarmed and disbanded after an Azerbaijani military offensive triggered intense fighting last Tuesday.

Azerbaijan's military detained Levon Mnatsakanyan, a former commander of the ethnic-Armenian troops, at a border checkpoint on Friday, Russian state news agency Tass reported.

A former head of the separatist government, Ruben Vardanyan, had been arrested on Wednesday while trying to leave for Armenia.

The region is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan but Armenians took control in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.