Nagorno-Karabakh: Azerbaijan Arrests Ex-Karabakh Leader

  • By Marietta Moloney
  • BBC News

image source, State Border Service of Azerbaijan / Handout by Reu

image caption,

Azerbaijan’s State Border Service released this photo Wednesday showing Ruben Vardanyan being detained.

Azerbaijan has arrested a former leader of Nagorno-Karabakh after he tried to cross the enclave into Armenia, officials say.

Ruben Vardanian, a businessman who headed the separatist government from November 2022 to February, was among the thousands trying to leave.

In total, 47,115 ethnic Armenians have now fled Nagorno-Karabakh, which was seized by Azerbaijan last week.

Mr. Vardanian’s wife appealed for cooperation to ensure his safe release.

“Reuben has stood by the Arsakh people during the 10-month blockade and suffered with them in their struggle for survival,” said Veronica Zonaband.

Azerbaijan’s border service said he was taken to the capital Baku and handed over to other state agencies.

Azerbaijani authorities claimed they were looking for “war crimes” suspects, and a government source told Agence France-Presse that the country intended to “apply amnesty to Armenian fighters who lay down their arms in Karabakh”.

“But those who committed war crimes during the Karabakh wars should be handed over to us,” he said.

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan and was controlled by ethnic Armenians for three decades.

Fears of fresh violence emerged when Azerbaijan effectively blockaded a key route into the enclave in December 2022.

A cease-fire on September 20 ended 24 hours of fighting. Azerbaijan and Karabakh authorities have begun talks about integrating the enclave into Azerbaijan.

But many of the region’s 120,000 ethnic Armenians fear they have no future in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia’s prime minister says “ethnic cleansing” has begun in the region.

Karabakh officials said at least 200 people had been killed in last week’s fighting, while Azerbaijan said on Wednesday that 192 of its soldiers had been killed.

Traffic jams have lined the road from Karabakh to Armenia for days and a BBC team saw families crammed into cars, boots and luggage piled on roof racks.

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Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh ride in a truck to the Armenian border village of Kornidzor

Western governments are pressuring Azerbaijan to allow international observers to monitor the treatment of the local population in Karabakh.

Germany became the latest country to join the calls on Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Annalina Birbach calling for “transparency”.

“It will be a sign of confidence that Azerbaijan is serious about its commitments to the security and well-being of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh if ​​it allows international observers,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter. used to go

Also on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blanken urged Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to provide “unconditional protections and freedom of movement for citizens”. He also called for “unimpeded humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also urged both sides to respect human rights.

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