Statement on the Ongoing Imprisonment of Armenian Officials of the Republic of Artsakh by the Republic of Azerbaijan
October 27, 2023
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention energetically condemns the ongoing and illegal imprisonment of eight high-ranking Armenian officials of the Republic of Artsakh by the Republic of Azerbaijan, which took place after the latter’s military aggression against the Nagorno-Karabakh region on 19 September 2023, and during the ensuing genocide against its civilian population. The Lemkin Institute exhorts the international community of states to pressure the government of President Aliyev into releasing all Armenian individuals under its jurisdiction, including those mentioned in the present statement.
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention (“Lemkin Institute”) energetically condemns the ongoing and illegal imprisonment of eight high-ranking Armenian officials of the Republic of Artsakh (“Artsakh”) by the Republic of Azerbaijan (“Azerbaijan”), which took place after the latter’s military aggression against the Nagorno-Karabakh region on 19 September 2023, and during the ensuing genocide against its civilian population.
On 27 September 2023, when Azerbaijan’s forced migration of Artsakh’s civilians was taking place, Mr. Ruben Vardanyan, former State Minister of Artsakh, was detained by Azerbaijan’s State Border Service at the illegal Hakari Bridge checkpoint. This checkpoint was established by Azerbaijan in the Lachin corridor in April 2023. On the same day, Mr. Vardanyan was sent to Azerbaijan’s capital city, Baku, where sham legal proceedings were initiated against him.
Mr. Vardanyan, a wealthy Russian-Armenian businessman and philanthropist, is particularly hated in Azerbaijan due to his outspoken and unyielding support of Artsakh’s right to self-determination. He was appointed State Minister of the Republic of Artsakh in November 2022, a position he was compelled to resign from just four months later in response to fierce opposition from Azerbaijan.
The Lemkin Institute recalls its statements on “the Arrest and Detention of former Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan by Azerbaijan” and “the Sentencing of former Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan in Azerbaijan” issued on 27 and 28 September 2023, respectively.
In its statement dated 27 September, the Lemkin Institute warned that “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.” Furthermore, the Lemkin Institute explained that “[...] 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.”
In this context, the Lemkin Institute emphasizes that irrespective of the existence of an armed conflict and, should its existence be confirmed, regardless of its legal character (international or non-international), states must, at all times, observe certain fundamental rights concerning the treatment of detained individuals under their jurisdiction, in accordance with international humanitarian law and human rights law. This includes the fundamental guarantees of humane treatment, non-discrimination, and due process, as well as protection from murder, torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment; corporal punishments, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary deprivation of liberty, among others.
In its statement dated 28 September, the Lemkin Institute protested against the sentencing of Mr. Vardanyan to four months of “preventive detention” in Azerbaijan, which is presumed to be followed by legal proceedings involving a range of fabricated claims that could potentially result in a 14-year prison sentence. According to news outlet “News.am”, Azerbaijan accused Mr. Vardanyan of “financing terrorism, participating in the creation and activities of armed organizations or groups not provided for by the legislation of Azerbaijan, and organizing the illegal arrival of a foreigner or stateless person to Azerbaijan.”
Undoubtedly, the charges against Mr. Vardanyan are the brainchild of Azerbaijan’s President, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, whose Armenophobic worldview entails the criminalization of all signs of Armenian identity, sovereignty, and autonomy. Admittedly, the fabricated charges against Mr. Vardanyan align with President Aliyev’s views on Artsakh, which he has previously branded as “illegal” and governed by “separatists” and “terrorists.” On account of the symbolic nature of processes of genocide in general, and genocidal social practices in particular, the Lemkin Institute maintains its belief that Aliyev’s regime intends to use Mr. Vardanyan as a symbol of its total victory over Armenians, whom the former consistently vilifies not only as “terrorists” and “separatists,” but also as “rats,” “dogs,” “jackals,” and “wild beasts.” In this regard, the Lemkin Institute notes that dehumanization speech-acts, especially those which construct the target group as animals (bestialization), diseases (biologicalization), or “less-than-human”, as well as criminalization speech-acts, especially when associated with supposed inherent traits of the group in question, are essential elements in the processes of genocide.
The Lemkin Institute recalls its 126-page report published on 5 September 2023, titled “Risk Factors and Indicators of the Crime of Genocide in the Republic of Artsakh: Applying the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes to the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict,” where it outlined President Aliyev’s genocidal narrative against Armenian identity in detail.
On the same day Mr. Vardanyan was seized (27 September), Major General Davit Manukyan, former First Deputy Commander of the Artsakh Defense Army, was also arrested by the State Border Service at the Hakari Bridge checkpoint and transferred to Baku.
On 28 September 2023, Mr. Davit Babayan, former Adviser to the President and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh, was pressured into traveling to Shushi, located in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, in response to a demand from Azerbaijani authorities requiring his arrival in Azerbaijan’s capital for an investigation. Mr. Babayan explained his decision on his Facebook account, stating: “This decision will naturally cause great pain, anxiety and stress, primarily to my loved ones, but I am sure they will understand. My failure to appear, or worse, my escape, will cause serious harm to our long-suffering nation, to many people, and I, as an honest person, hard worker, patriot and Christian, cannot allow this.” Mr. Babayan’s arrest was later confirmed by the Office of the General Prosecutor of Azerbaijan.
On 29 September 2023, Mr. Levon Mnatsakanyan, former Commander of the Artsakh Defense Army, was detained by Azerbaijan at the Hakari Bridge checkpoint and subsequently transferred to Baku. Following the decision of the Azerbaijani court overseeing his case, Mr. Mnatsakanyan was arrested and placed in an isolation cell within Azerbaijan’s National Security Service.
In October 2023, the State Border Service of Azerbaijan detained Mr. Arkadi Ghukasyan, the second President of Artsakh; Mr. Bako Sahakyan, the third President of Artsakh; Mr. Arayik Harutyunyan, the fourth President and former State Minister of Artsakh; as well as Mr. Davit Ishkhanyan, the last President of the National Assembly of Artsakh, and transferred them to Baku.
On 4 October 2023, the news agency “News.am” reported the release of photos depicting Mr. Harutyunyan’s arrest by Azerbaijani media outlets. Furthermore, the news outlet reported that Azerbaijan had issued an international arrest warrant for the former President of Artsakh and Mr. Jalal Harutyunyan, former Commander of the Artsakh Defense Army. In this context, the Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan was reported to have announced that the arrest warrant had been issued “in connection with the rocket fire against the civilian population of Ganja and the killing of civilians during the 44-day war [in 2020].” The following day, a video showing Mr. Harutyunyan being taken to his cell by two masked Azerbaijani soldiers was uploaded to Youtube.
On the same day, a video showing Messrs. Ghukasyan, Sahakyan and Ishkhanyan being taken to their cells by masked Azerbaijani soldiers was uploaded to the mentioned website.
In addition to the abovementioned detentions, on 29 July 2023, Azerbaijan arrested Mr. Vagif Khachatryan, aged 68, at the Hakari Bridge checkpoint while he was being evacuated from Artsakh by the International Committee of the Red Cross for urgent medical treatment. He is accused by Azerbaijan of committing war crimes during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War in the 1990s, allegations he denies. At the present time, he is on trial in Azerbaijan’s infamous judicial system, where violations of the fundamental guarantee of due process have become alarmingly common. In fact, according to one observer, Mr. Khachatryan’s statements are intentionally being mistranslated for Azerbaijani and Turkish audiences. Additionally, photos of Mr. Khachatryan have raised concerns about his potential mistreatment and deteriorating health.
The international community has decided to ignore this miscarriage of justice, just as it has abandoned the estimated 300 Armenian captives being detained in Azerbaijan’s capital city since the the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in November 2020. Azerbaijan must abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law and proceed with the immediate and safe repatriation of any and all Armenian individuals under its jurisdiction.
The Lemkin Institute condemns the international community’s indifference and complicity in Azerbaijan’s unequivocal genocidal process against Armenians. With the threat of a complete invasion of the Republic of Armenia by Azerbaijan looming not so far in the distance, the need for the international community’s support to avert a new humanitarian crisis has never been greater. The exigency for decisive action is even more crucial in the current international context, where the lack of unequivocal condemnation of Israel’s indiscriminate murdering of Palestinian might have the undesired effect of emboldening other authoritarian regimes seeking to resolve their “groups questions.”
As a result, the Lemkin Institute exhorts the international community of states to pressure the government of President Aliyev into releasing all Armenian individuals under its jurisdiction, including those mentioned in the present statement. Moreover, it exhorts states to refrain from providing any kind of assistance that could worsen the suffering of the victims of the Artsakh Genocide, or embolden Azerbaijan into perpetrating any act of aggression incompatible with international law.