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Statement on the Arrest and Detention of former Artsakh State Minister Ruben
Vardanyan by Azerbaijan

September 27, 2023

Statement on the Arrest and Detention of former Artsakh State Minister Ruben
Vardanyan by Azerbaijan

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention is deeply concerned about the breaking news of the arrest and detention of former Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan by Azerbaijan’s State Border Service. Vardanyan was taken by Azerbaijani agents on Wednesday, September 27, 2023 as he attempted to cross the illegal Lachin checkpoint (established by Azerbaijan in April 2023) along with thousands of other citizens of Artsakh fleeing Azerbaijani occupation.

Azerbaijan has said that it has a list of Armenians in Artsakh whom it plans to detain. It is believed that this list includes members of the former government of the Republic of Artsakh and the soldiers and officers of the disbanded Artsakh Defense Army. Azerbaijan has not yet explained the reasons for Vardanyan’s arrest and captivity, except to accuse him of illegally entering the territory, ostensibly when he moved to Artsakh in 2022.

Vardanyan, a wealthy Russian-Armenian businessman and philanthropist as well as an outspoken advocate for Artsakh’s right to self-determination, is particularly hated by Azerbaijan. He moved from Russia to Artsakh in 2022 in solidarity with the struggle for Artsakh’s independence. In November 2022, Vardanyan was appointed State Minister of Artsakh, a position he was forced to leave four months later in response to Azerbaijan’s vocal opposition.

Vardanyan’s detention poses a very high risk of torture and extrajudicial execution or a show trial. As one of the most eloquent and outspoken advocates for the Republic of Artsakh, Vardanyan symbolizes to the regime of Azerbaijan President Aliyev the territory that it has long desired to annihilate. Vardanyan’s life and his body are therefore potent symbols of Armenian strength and sovereignty.

Azerbaijan has branded Vardanyan and other current and former members of the Artsakh government and self-defense army as “separatists” and “terrorists” in a clear move to justify their illegal aggression against Artsakh and the illegal detention and possibly murder of Artsakh Armenians under its control. Concern for the life and safety of Vardanyan is especially warranted given the treatment that Armenian POWs have received in Azerbaijani captivity since 2020. They have been tortured, humiliated, murdered, disappeared, and subjected to show trials. This is well documented.

Russia and the United States as well as all other world leaders must demand Vardanyan’s safe passage out of Azerbaijan and must ensure that other members of the Artsakh government, as well as members of the Artsakh Defense Army, are also allowed to leave. We remind the world that the detention, killing, and disappearance of elites and/or men is a common act of genocide.

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