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Azerbaijan confirms arrest of Nagorno-Karabakh ex-president

October 5, 2023

Several former presidents of the ethnic Armenian separatist region have been detained by Azerbaijan. Millions of civilians have also been forced to flee their homes.

Arayik Harutyunyan, former leader of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, center, stands between Azerbaijani security service agents in Baku, Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan has confirmed earlier reports on the arrest of Arayik Harutyunyan, former leader of the breakaway region of Nagorno-KarabakhImage: AP Photo/picture alliance

Reports of the arrest of a former president of the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh were confirmed by Azerbaijani officials on Thursday.

Arayik Harutyunyan, who presided over the separatist government during the 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, was detained on Tuesday.

Azerbaijan's prosecutor general and the secret service said the 49-year-old had been arrested "on suspicion of waging an aggressive war" against Azerbaijan, as well as alleged war crimes.

Who else have Azerbaijani forces detained?

The arrest comes after Baku launched a lightning invasion against the enclave, which resulted in its ethnic Armenian authorities agreeing to disband, and most of its population fleeing to Armenia.

On Wednesday, Armenia's Foreign Ministry "strongly condemned" Azerbaijan for the arrest of Harutyunyan as well as several other separatist leaders.

Those include Ruben Vardanyan, the billionaire former president of the enclave who governed between November 2022 and February.

Two other former presidents of the separatist region — Arkadi Gukasian, who served from 1997 to 2007, and Bako Sahakyan, who served from 2007 to 2020 — were also arrested on Tuesday, according to the APA news agency.

Armenians leaving Nagorno-Karabakh anxious over future

The ministry said it "will take all possible steps to protect the rights of the illegally arrested representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh, including in international courts."

The Azerbaijani government said that it was holding "re-integration" talks with the former leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh while at the same time, Prosecutor General Kamran Aliyev said criminal investigations were being initiated against 300 separatist officials.

Years of conflict

September's 24-hour invasion was the fourth major conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, or in this case the ethnic Armenian enclave alone, since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

A six-year war between the two former Soviet states ended in 1994 with Armenian-backed forces taking control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region surrounded by Azerbaijani territory.

Around 1 million Azeris were forced to flee.

Azerbaijan took back parts of the region in a six-week conflict in 2020, but this was finalized in just one day in September even with Russian peacekeepers present.

The United Nations has called on Azerbaijan to provide its detainees with "full respect and protection."

UN delegation arrives in Nagorno-Karabakh after mass exodus

ab/sms (AFP, AP)