Azerbaijani security forces have seized at least eight current and former senior officials of Nagorno Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, following Azerbaijan’s military takeover. Those taken captive include three former presidents. The current president of Artsakh and other office holders are also held hostage while “negotiations” with Azerbaijan continue.
Ruben Vardanyan was abducted when trying to cross into Armenia. State Border Service of Azerbaijan
On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan launched a full-scale military assault on Nagorno Karabakh, ethnically cleansing this ancient Armenian Christian land of virtually its entire population. On the second day of the attack, Karabakh’s Armenian leaders accepted a ceasefire, under which they agreed to give up their weapons and negotiate on “reintegration” into Azerbaijan. While these “negotiations” continue, some current and former members of Artsakh’s democratically-elected government have been abducted by Azerbaijan.
Those in Azerbaijani captivity include three former presidents, the parliamentary speaker and several former government ministers. Most of the hostages have been charged with “terrorism” or related offenses. Azerbaijan’s ultra-nationalist dictator, Ilham Aliyev, has described Nagorno Karabakh’s elected leadership as a “criminal junta.”
Azerbaijan claims to have a list of over 300 Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh who they are seeking to capture.
CSI calls for release of hostages
CSI is calling for the immediate release of Azerbaijan’s Armenian hostages. CSI President Dr. John Eibner said, “Having broken the ceasefire, ethnically cleansed Nagorno Karabakh and destroyed one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, Aliyev has now begun to kidnap individuals who served in the democratically-elected government of the Republic of Artsakh, leadership figures with whom Azerbaijan previously engaged in negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE peace process led by Moscow, Washington, and Paris. These captives are indeed hostages of a genocidal dictatorship.”
As of October 5, the Azerbaijani authorities have confirmed the detention of the following:
Ruben Vardanyan – former state minister
The businessman and philanthropist who served as minister of state until February 2023 was abducted when trying to cross into Armenia. His wife, Veronika Zonabend, told the Guardian, “He came to Karabakh because he wanted the best for his nation, his people. That he stayed so long shows what sort of man and politician he is. I hope the international community will help. I pray for it.” Vardanyan was taken to Baku where he is in pre-trial detention charged with financing “terrorism,” creating and participating in “illegal armed organizations” and illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border.
Arayik Harutyunyan – former president
Harutyunyan was the fourth president of the Republic of Artsakh, serving from May 2020 until his resignation on September 1, 2023. Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general issued a warrant for his arrest on October 1. According to Azerbaijani press reports, Harutunyan has already undergone interrogation in Baku.
Bako Sahakyan – former president
Arrested on October 3, Sahakyan was the third and longest-serving president of the Republic of Artsakh. He was in office from July 2007 until May 2020.
Arkadi Ghukasyan – former president
Ghukasyan was Nagorno Karabakh’s second president, serving from 1997 to 2007. He was also arrested on October 3.
Davit Ishkhanyan – National Assembly speaker
Ishkhanyan was elected speaker of parliament in August 2023, just one month before Azerbaijan’s offensive. He too was arrested on October 3.
David Babayan – former foreign minister
Babayan served as foreign minister from 2021 to 2023. In January 2023 he became a presidential advisor. Knowing that he was on Azerbaijan’s wanted list, he announced on September 28 that he was handing himself over.
In his announcement, he stated, “This choice will undoubtedly bring pain, anxiety and stress primarily to my loved ones, but I am confident they will understand. My failure to appear or, even worse, my escape would inflict significant harm on our long-suffering people. As an honorable man, a diligent worker, a patriot, and a Christian, I cannot allow this.”
The following day he was arrested in connection with “crimes” committed during the war in 2020. He is in pre-trial detention charged with more than ten counts of violating the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
Levon Mnatsakanyan – former minister of defense
Mnatsakanyan commanded the Nagorno Karabakh Defense Army from 2015 to 2018. He was arrested at the Lachin Corridor border checkpoint on September 29.
Davit Manukyan – former deputy minister of defense
Arrested on September 29 and remanded to pre-trial detention for his role in defending Nagorno Karabakh from Azerbaijani aggression as the republic’s deputy defense minister, Manukyan has been charged with “terrorism,” illegal possession and transportation of weapons and ammunition, forming “armed groups” and illegal border crossing.
Prior to its offensive, Azerbaijan also detained a number of civilians as they attempted to cross into Armenia from Nagorno Karabakh.
Vagif Khachatryan, aged 68, was being evacuated by the International Committee of the Red Cross for urgent medical treatment when Azerbaijani border guards seized him at the Lachin Corridor crossing point on July 29. He is accused by Azerbaijan of committing war crimes during the first Armenia-Azerbaijan war in the 1990s. His whereabouts and condition are unknown.
On August 28, Azerbaijan also abducted three young Armenian students from Nagorno Karabakh — Alen Sargsyan, Vahe Hovsepyan and Levon Grigoryan – and charged them with disrespecting the Azerbaijani flag. They were released and sent to Armenia before the start of the military conflict on September 19.
Additionally, an unknown number of Armenian prisoners of the second Nagorno Karabakh war in 2020 are still being held in Azerbaijan.