No charges have been pressed in an ongoing investigation of the cause of a deadly fire that killed 15 soldiers and injured at least six others at a military barracks on January 19. The fire took place at an abandoned house turned into barracks in Azat, a border village in the eastern Gegharkunik province. Armenia’s Defense Minister says that an officer used gasoline to start a fire in a wood stove. Armenia’s prosecutor-general has opened an investigation into negligence and violation of fire safety rules. At least eight mid-level officers, including the head of the fire safety department of Armenia’s armed forces, have been fired. Some human rights groups and critics have called for the resignation of more senior officials, including the Defense Minister.
The European Union has announced a new civilian monitoring mission along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The mission, which has a two-year mandate, aims to “contribute to stability in border areas.” It will conduct “routine patrolling and report on the situation” along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and contribute to “mediation efforts in the framework of the process led by President of the European Council Charles Michel,” according to the European Council. The EU previously deployed a two-month border monitoring mission following the two-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in September 2022. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the mission “counterproductive,” stating that Armenia “prefers to agree with the European Union on the placement of a civilian observer mission” over the deployment of CSTO peacekeepers.
A Baku court has refused to release activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev on bail. Hajiyev has been on hunger strike for 16 days. His lawyer says he is experiencing dizziness, low blood pressure and stomach bleeding. Hajiyev was arrested on December 9 and charged with hooliganism. Local and international human rights groups have denounced his detention as politically motivated. Representatives from several Western embassies were barred from attending the hearing. Eighteen journalists and civil society representatives signed an appeal to President Aliyev to release Hajiyev and activist Avaz Zeynalli from prison. “Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Avaz Zeynalli were influential people in the public. Both of them loved their state and were devoted to their people,” the appeal says.
Member of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party Levan Khabeishvili has threatened to break Mikheil Saakashvili out of jail after the former president and party founder tested positive for COVID-19. Saakashvili was arrested in October 2021 and sentenced to six years in prison on charges of abuse of office during his time as president. Saakashvili’s health has been deteriorating following several hunger strikes. His supporters have been demanding that he be transferred abroad for treatment. Khabeishvili will challenge UNM leader Nika Melia in the upcoming party elections later this month.