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Statement on the Sentencing of Vagif Khachatryan in the Republic of Azerbaijan

November 13, 2023

Statement on the Sentencing of Vagif Khachatryan in the Republic of Azerbaijan

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention energetically condemns the 15-year prison sentence handed down to Mr. Vagif Khachatryan on 7 November 2023 by the Republic of Azerbaijan.

A resident of the Republic of Artsakh, Mr. Khachatryan was detained at the illegal Hakari Bridge checkpoint on 29 July 2023 while he was being evacuated from his homeland by the International Committee of the Red Cross for urgent medical treatment. This checkpoint was established by Azerbaijan in the Lachin Corridor in April 2023, four months after Azerbaijan’s illegal blockade of the same corridor on 12 December 2022. This blockade left the then 120,000 inhabitants of Artsakh without essential goods and services, constituting a textbook case of genocide-by-attrition, as accurately observed by the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr. Luis Moreno Ocampo.

Mr. Khachatryan’s abduction took place before Azerbaijan’s military aggression against Artsakh on 19 September 2023, which resulted in massacre and atrocity and the consequent flight of almost 100 percent of its indigenous Armenian population to neighboring Armenia. The aggression, atrocity and forced displacement amount to a very thorough genocide of an ancient, continuous indigenous civilization.

Upon his abduction, Mr. Khachatryan was immediately accused by Azerbaijani authorities of committing war crimes during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War in the 1990s, charges he has repeatedly denied and for which Azerbaijan has offered no independent evidence.

In this context, the Lemkin Institute recalls its “Statement on the Ongoing Imprisonment of Armenian Officials of the Republic of Artsakh by the Republic of Azerbaijan,” issued on 27 October 2023. In that statement, the Lemkin Institute noted that: “At the present time, [Mr. Khachatryan] 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.”

According to the news outlet, the prosecution explained that Azerbaijani law does not allow Mr. Khachatryan to be sentenced to life imprisonment, as he is over 65 years old. According to another news agency, Mr. Khachatryan is scheduled to spend the initial five years of his 15-year sentence in prison, followed by 10 years in a high-security correctional facility. This seemingly innocuous, legalist discourse, however, is nothing but the gilded cloak that hides the ordinary dagger: a miscarriage of justice of the highest order.

The law often serves to legitimize those in power, particularly within dictatorial regimes like the one led by Azerbaijani President Mr. Ilham Aliyev. Given Mr. Khachatryan’s advanced age and heart condition, the latter being the cause of his emergency evacuation from Artsakh on 29 July 2023, his 15-year prison sentence amounts to a death penalty, concealed beneath the superficially benign façade of an unmistakably oppressive and genocidal regime.

Once again, the Lemkin Institute recalls the ongoing and unlawful imprisonment of the eight high-ranking Armenian officials, as well as the abandonment of dozens and perhaps hundreds of Armenian civilian captives and POWs, as outlined in its aforementioned statement, who might soon share the same fate as Mr. Khachatryan, if not worse. Time and time again, Azerbaijan has shown its repudiation of a law-based international order, including its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

The Lemkin Institute exhorts the international community, which seems to have forgotten the commission of atrocity crimes in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, as well as the looming threat of an invasion of the Republic of Armenia by Azerbaijan, to persuade the regime of President Aliyev into promptly releasing all Armenian persons under its jurisdiction and to refrain from providing any kind of assistance that could worsen the suffering of the victims of the Artsakh genocide or embolden Azerbaijan to perpetrate any unlawful act of aggression.

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