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. A video showing him handcuffed, walking with his captors in Baku, is particularly ominous.
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.