A view of the Azerbaijani checkpoint set up in the Lachin corridor, June 23, 2023.

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL, Public Radio of Armenia) — On August 28 President of the Artsakh Republic Arayik Harutyunyan called an emergency meeting of the Security Council upon the arrest of three citizens. The three young men, Alen Sargsyan, Vahe Hovsepyan and Levon Grigoryan, were detained by Azerbaijani security forces on while traveling to Armenia through the Lachin corridor.

Artak Beglaryan, an advisor to the Artsakh government and a former premier, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the Russian peacekeepers are negotiating with the Azerbaijani side to try to have them freed. Arayik Harutyunyan, the Karabakh president, held an emergency session of his security council later in the day.

“Azerbaijan is continuing its genocidal policy towards the people of Artsakh, once again violating international humanitarian law,” read a Karabakh statement issued shortly after the detentions.

The Azerbaijani authorities did not immediately comment on the arrests. But media outlets linked to them reported that the three Karabakh Armenians are suspected of being members of a Karabakh football team that had “disrespected” the Azerbaijani national flag in a 2021 video posted on social media.

Beglaryan said he “cannot confirm” that Sargsyan, Hovsepyan and Grigoryan played for that youth team based in the Karabakh town of Martuni. “All three of them are students of Armenian universities,” he said.

In any case, added Beglaryan, the Azerbaijani allegations are “absurd” and aimed at intimidating Karabakh’s Armenian population opposed to the restoration of Azerbaijani control over their region.

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Another Karabakh man, Vagif Khachatryan, was arrested at the Azerbaijani checkpoint in late July while being evacuated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Armenia. The 68-year-old was taken to Baku to stand trial on charges of killing and deporting Karabakh’s ethnic Azerbaijani residents in December 1991, at the beginning of the first Armenian-Azerbaijani war.

Karabakh’s leadership rejected the “false” accusations and demanded Khachatryan’s immediate release. The Armenian Foreign Ministry likewise condemned Khachatryan’s arrest as a “blatant violation of international humanitarian law” and “war crime.”

From left, Alen Sargsyan, Vahe Hovsepyan and Levon Grigoryan

The ministry condemned the latest detentions as well. It described them as a further indication that Baku intends to “avoid dialogue with Nagorno-Karabakh by all means and continue instead its policy of ethnic cleansing.”

Khachatryan is the first Karabakh patient arrested by the Azerbaijani authorities during regular medical evacuations organized by the ICRC after Baku halted last December commercial traffic through the only road connecting Karabakh to Armenia.

Last week, Baku also allowed other categories of Karabakh’s population, notably university students and holders of Russian passports, to travel to Armenia. They are escorted by Russian peacekeepers.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a statement decrying the arrests.

The statement said, in part: “According to point 6 of the tripartite statement of November 9, they [Russian peacekeepers] had to control the uninterrupted connection between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh through the Lachin Corridor. The mentioned persons were moving to the Republic of Armenia to continue their studies. This step of Azerbaijan, which was preceded on July 29 by the kidnapping of 68-year-old Vagif Khachatryan, who was being transferred to the Republic of Armenia in order to receive immediate medical assistance by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in 2020. It is a gross violation of the tripartite declaration of November 9, the legally binding decisions of the UN International Court of Justice, and an open contempt for the unequivocal and direct calls of the international community, including the members of the UN Security Council.”

The statement added, “These incidents, which took place under various false pretexts, allow us to have a reasonable fear that Azerbaijan is openly planning to subject the entire people of Nagorno Karabakh to collective punishment, which in the 90s of the previous century and in 2020. had to face the large-scale aggression unleashed by Azerbaijan and defend his right to peaceful life in his homeland. Regardless of age, gender, health status, the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh is deprived of all fundamental rights, subjected to starvation, blocking the supply of medicine, essential goods, gas, electricity, targeting civilians by snipers and terrorizing the entire people by means of kidnappings, blocking the Lachin Corridor. shows the real aspirations of the leadership of Azerbaijan to avoid dialogue with Nagorno-Karabakh and instead continue its policy of ethnic cleansing. Instead of supporting the steps aimed at establishing peace and stability in the region, the Azerbaijani side has obviously invested all its efforts in defeating them.”


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