YEREVAN—Azerbaijan has illegally detained eight state and military figures of Artsakh, including four former presidents and the current chairman of the National Assembly. As of the morning of October 4, the following state and military representatives have been arrested and sent to Baku:
Davit Babayan – former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh
Arkady Ghukasyan – former president of Artsakh Republic
Arayik Harutyunyan – former president of Artsakh Republic
Davit Ishkhanyan – chairman of the National Assembly of Artsakh Republic
Davit Manukyan – former deputy commander of the Artsakh Armed Forces, general
Levon Mnatsakanyan – former commander of the Defense Forces, general
Bako Sahakyan – former president of Artsakh Republic
Ruben Vardanyan – former State Minister of Artsakh Republic
Following the Azerbaijani offensive on Artsakh on September 19, which led to dozens of military and civilian deaths, including children, a Russian-brokered agreement was reached on the withdrawal of the remaining units and servicemen of the Armed Forces of Armenia from Artsakh, the disbanding and complete disarmament of the Artsakh Defense Army, and the removal of heavy equipment and weapons from the territory of Artsakh. The offensive came almost ten months after the start of Azerbaijan’s devastating blockade, which precipitated a humanitarian crisis in Artsakh.
On September 28, nine days after the 24-hour blitz by Azerbaijan, President of the Republic of Artsakh Samvel Shahramanyan signed a decree to dissolve all state institutions by January 1, 2024. The decree states that the republic will cease to exist on that day, and the local population must familiarize itself with the conditions of reintegration presented by the Republic of Azerbaijan and make an “independent decision” on whether to stay or leave the region.
Despite the agreement, and as a result of continuing hostilities against the civilian population of Artsakh in line with Azerbaijan’s national policy of ethnic cleansing, more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians have been forced to flee from Artsakh, seeking refuge in different regions of the Republic of Armenia.
During the forced migration of tens of thousands of Armenians, state representatives also made their way towards Armenia. While several state officials, like former Secretary of the Security Council of the Republic of Artsakh Samvel Babayan, made it through the illegal checkpoint at the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor, others met with a different outcome.
Vardanyan was detained by Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces at the illegal Azerbaijani checkpoint on the Hakari Bridge at the entrance to the Berdzor Corridor. Vardanyan relocated to Artsakh from Russia in 2022, where he served as State Minister and was actively involved in multiple humanitarian aid projects in the blockaded republic. Vardanyan has been an outspoken advocate for Artsakh’s right to independence and self-determination. He is currently serving a four-month detention and faces a potential 14-year sentence by Azerbaijan on charges of financial terrorism, participation in the formation of armed groups and residing in the Republic of Azerbaijan without proper authorization.
Vardanyan’s children have appealed to human rights advocates to help achieve their father’s release from detention in Azerbaijan. In their statement, Vardanyan’s four children state their concern about their father’s wellbeing and safety in arbitrary detention. They also state that they do not want their father to become yet another victim of the political tension in the region, “especially as his mission has always been to reduce this exact same tension and find a peaceful solution to a long-term conflict.”
In a Facebook post, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh and current advisor to the president of Artsakh Davit Babayan announced that he would be going to Shushi to turn himself in per the request of the Azerbaijani government, where he would then be sent to Baku for an investigation. Babayan stated that although the decision to turn himself in would cause great pain for his family and friends, “not turning myself in, or moreover fleeing, would seriously harm our people, many, many people, and I, as an honest man, a working, patriotic Christian, cannot allow it.”
Vardanyan’s arrest was followed by the detention of former Artsakh Deputy Defense Minister, Lieutenant-General Davit Manukyan, and former Artsakh Defense Minister, Lieutenant-General Levon Mnatsakanyan. According to a statement released by the Azerbaijani State Security Service, Manukyan is charged with terrorism, illegal possession and transportation of weapons and ammunition, forming armed groups and illegal border crossing. Manukyan is the brother of Gegham Manukyan, opposition “Armenia Alliance” MP and member of the Supreme Council of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in Armenia. Both Davit Manukyan and Mnatsakanyan have been transferred to Baku and are awaiting trial.
On October 3, Azerbaijan arrested former presidents of the Artsakh Republic, Arkady Ghukasyan, Bako Sahakyan and Arayik Harutyunyan and incumbent Speaker of Artsakh’s Parliament Davit Ishkhanyan. These arrests bring the total of confirmed Artsakh officials being illegally tried in Baku to eight. Ghukasyan served as the second president of the Republic of Artsakh from 1997 to 2007, followed by Sahakyan, who held the presidency from 2007 to 2020. Ishkhanyan was elected speaker of the parliament in August 2023. He has served as the representative of the ARF Central Committee in Artsakh and is currently a member of the ARF Bureau. Harutyunyan served as the fourth president of the Artsakh Republic from 2020-2023, submitting his resignation prior to Azerbaijan’s most recent attack.
On September 28, the Republic of Armenia submitted an application to the International Court of Justice of the United Nations to apply a temporary measure in the case of Armenia vs. Azerbaijan under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, “demanding Azerbaijan to refrain from punitive actions against the current or former leadership or the military of Nagorno Karabakh,” stated Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry also released a statement on September 4 condemning the illegal arrests of the representatives of the Artsakh Republic. “Despite the dialogue with the representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh, the statements of high-ranking officials of Azerbaijan regarding the willingness to respect and protect the rights of Armenians, not to hinder their return to Nagorno-Karabakh, and on establishment of peace in the region, the law enforcement bodies of Azerbaijan continue arbitrary arrests,” the statement reads.
The Ministry has affirmed that the Republic of Armenia is actively taking measures to safeguard the rights of unlawfully detained Artsakh representatives, both domestically and in international courts. Furthermore, they have urged international partners to maintain consistency in their messages and appeals to Azerbaijan regarding the protection of the rights and security of the Artsakh people, addressing the matter through bilateral channels and various international platforms.