- A screenshot of Azerbaijani government video of Ruben Vardanyan’s transfer to a prison in Baku, September 28, 2023.

YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — Authorities in Azerbaijan brought on September 28 a string of criminal charges against Ruben Vardanyan, an Armenian-born businessman and former Nagorno-Karabakh premier, one day after arresting him in the Lachin corridor.

Vardanyan, who held the second-highest post in Karabakh’s leadership from November 2022 to February 2023, was arrested at an Azerbaijani checkpoint on the main road connecting Karabakh to Armenia as he fled the region along with tens of thousands of its ordinary residents.

Azerbaijan’s State Security Service said the prominent billionaire was charged with “financing terrorism,” illegally entering Karabakh last year and supplying its armed forces with military equipment. It said an Azerbaijani court remanded him in pre-trial custody.

Born and raised in Armenia, Vardanyan is a former investment banker who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s and 2000s. The 55-year-old relocated to Karabakh and was appointed as its state minister last November shortly before Baku blocked traffic through the Lachin corridor. He made defiant statements during and after his short tenure, urging the Karabakh Armenians to resist Azerbaijani efforts to force them into submission.

Vardanyan is the first Karabakh leader arrested after last week’s Azerbaijani military offensive that paved the way for the restoration of Azerbaijani control over the Armenian-populated territory. There are growing indications that Baku is seeking to also jail other current and former Karabakh officials.

Davit Babayan, a well-known adviser to Karabakh’s current and former presidents, said on Thursday that “the Azerbaijani side has demanded my arrival in Baku.” He said he will turn himself in later in the day because he does not want to “cause serious damage” to other Karabakh Armenians who have not yet left the region.

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In Yerevan, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan expressed serious concern at “arbitrary arrests” made at the Azerbaijani checkpoint. Without mentioning Vardanyan by name, he said the Armenian government will take “necessary steps to protect the rights of arbitrarily arrested individuals, including in international bodies.”

The government on Wednesday asked the European Court of Human Rights to order Baku to urgently provide information about Vardanyan’s whereabouts and detention conditions. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said it will do its best to try to secure the tycoon’s release.

Vardanyan, who renounced his Russian citizenship late last year, has been increasingly critical of Pashinyan in recent months, repeatedly denouncing his recognition of Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh.

UN Calls for Human Rights

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) called on Azerbaijan to respect the rights of the Vardanyan, said UNHCR spokesperson Elizabeth Trossell, in response to a request to comment on Vardanyan’s imprisonment in Azerbaijan, to TASS Russian news agency.

Trossell said that they call on the Azerbaijani authorities to take all measures to ensure that due process and fair trial rights are respected — as required by international human rights law.

It is imperative that the rights of Ruben Vardanyan and any other detainee be fully respected and protected, added the UNHCR spokesperson.

Former Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan wrote on his Facebook page similarly called for Vardanyan’s safety.

On his Facebook page he wrote: “The return of all Armenian captives, arrested and kidnapped to Armenia should be one of the main issues on the agenda of the Armenian authorities. Azerbaijan’s accusations against Ruben Vardanyan are fabricated. Azerbaijan does not have any legal basis to keep him. The same applies to Davit Babayan and others who may have a similar fate. Ruben Vardanyan is a citizen of the Republic of Armenia. He was there to stand by his people and defend their right to self-determination. Davit Babayan is a citizen of Artsakh by birth, he also fought to protect the land his ancestors left him as a legacy and to live freely there.

“The Armenian authorities should make every effort, including the interruption of negotiations, to secure their release. In return for the great gift given to Azerbaijan, the authorities of Armenia should at least demand the return of these people.

“Diaspora should also make this issue an agenda item.

“And the international community should definitely demand from Azerbaijan to refrain from such persecutions.”

Former Foreign Minister David Babayan

Babayan Surrender

Babayan said on Thursday that he has decided to turn himself in to the Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies.

He announced his decision in a statement posted on Facebook.

“As you know, I am included in Azerbaijan’s black list, and the Azerbaijani side has requested my arrival to Baku for a relevant investigation. I decided to travel to Shushi from Stepanakert today. This decision will naturally cause great pain, worry and stress first of all to my family members, but I am sure they will understand. Not turning myself in, or moreover fleeing, would seriously harm our [anguished] people, many, many people, and I, as an honest man, a working, patriotic Christian, cannot allow it. God bless our people, may the Almighty reduce our people’s suffering and heal its wounds,” Babayan wrote.


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