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Azerbaijan arrests ex-Nagorno-Karabakh leaders

5 October 2023: Baku continues to arrest ex-officials of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), which is in the process of formally dissolving itself, reports Eurasianet.

Azerbaijani security services detained three former presidents of the defunct entity on Tuesday.

Azerbaijani pro-government media reported that Arayik Harutyunyan, who served as de facto president of the NKR from May 2020 until September 1, had been detained by Azerbaijan’s State Security Service (SSS) in Karabakh, and that he was being taken to Baku.

Earlier the same day, media reported the arrest of the two previous NKR presidents – Bako Saakyan (2007-20) and Arkadi Ghukasyan (1997-2007) – and former chair of parliament David Ishkhanyan by the SSS.

The NKR exercised de facto control over Nagorno-Karabakh – an Armenian-majority region internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan – for more than 30 years. It was disbanded on September 28 by its last president, Samvel Shahramanyan, after Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive to retake the territory on September 19-20.

Harutyunyan was the commander-in-chief of the local armed force, the Artsakh Defense Army, during the 2020 Second Karabakh War which saw Azerbaijan retake most of the territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it had lost in the first war in the 1990s. (At the time the Artsakh Defense Force and the army of the Republic of Armenia were largely integrated with each other and fought together against Azerbaijan.)

On October 4, 2020, during the second war, Harutyunyan confirmed that he had ordered a missile strike earlier that day on Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, Ganja. He said the missiles targeted military facilities, but dozens of civilians were killed.

Four separate ballistic missile attacks on the city killed 23 people and wounded nearly 120. Civilians in other cities in western Azerbaijan including Barda, Tartar, Aghdam, Aghjabedi, and Naftalan also were subject to bombardment by Armenian/Karabakhi forces. Human Rights Watch described the attacks on populated areas as “unlawfully indiscriminate.”

Several weeks later, Azerbaijan issued an international search warrant for Harutyunyan and other Karabakhi Armenian officials.

On October 4, Azerbaijani media identified Alov Safaraliyev as Harutyunyan’s state-appointed defense lawyer.

Harutyunyan and his two predecessors are not the first former Karabakhi officials to be arrested by Azerbaijan amid the surrender of NKR and mass exodus of Armenians from Karabakh. Ruben Vardanyan, the billionaire and former state minister of NKR, was arrested and placed in 4-month detention awaiting trial on terrorism-related charges.

David Babayan, former de facto foreign minister, was arrested on September 29 and now faces 25 different charges – mostly related to separatism and terrorism, the Azerbaijani General Prosecutor’s Office told media. Babayan was among those declared wanted by Azerbaijan over the Ganja bombings.

In addition, former NKR Defense Minister Lyova Mnatsakanyan was arrested and accused of torturing Azerbaijanis during the NKR’s de facto rule.

And David Manukyan, a former commander in the Artsakh Defense Army was arrested by the SSS on September 27 and now faces charges of terrorism, creating illegal armed groups, and illegally crossing the border.

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