Azerbaijan said on Wednesday it had arrested the former leader of Nagorno-Karabakh separatists as he tried to enter Armenia following an operation in Baku last week.
The National Border Guard Service reported that businessman Ruben Vardanian, who led Armenia’s separatist government from November 2022 to February this year, was handed over to authorities in Baku after being arrested while was going to Armenia.
The service also published a photo showing R. Vardanian, born in 1968, being detained by two security officers.
Azerbaijan has agreed to allow separatists who have laid down their arms to leave for Armenia, in accordance with the terms of a ceasefire agreement reached last Wednesday.
But an Azerbaijani government source told AFP that border guards were also looking for “war crimes” suspects who would be prosecuted.
It is not yet clear what charges could be brought against R. Vardanianis.
Azerbaijan is negotiating “reintegration” terms with separatist leaders in closed-door talks brokered by Russia.
Vardanian’s wife, Veronika Zonabend, said her husband was “arrested this morning by Azerbaijani authorities at the border while trying to leave with thousands of Armenians.”
“I ask for your prayers and support for my husband’s safe release,” she wrote on her husband’s X account.
Nearly half of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population has already fled, Armenia faces a humanitarian crisis
Armenia said Wednesday that nearly half the population had fled Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan last week crushed a decades-long separatist struggle for an independent state.
Yerevan is trying to absorb a sea of homeless and hungry ethnic Armenians, while authorities are still trying to find more than 100 people missing after Monday’s explosion at a fuel depot. 68 people died in the explosion.
The fire broke out as the refugees were refueling for the long journey along the only mountain road leading from the region to Armenia.
The Armenian government said more than 50,000 people had already arrived in the country. refugees since Azerbaijan lifted a nine-month blockade on the enclave on Sunday.
Some refugees at the border told AFP that separatist authorities had pushed them to leave. Almost half of the approximately 120,000 refugees became refugees. of the region’s population and represents a fundamental shift in ethnic control over lands contested for a century by mainly Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis.
It also adds to economic tensions in Armenia, a landlocked Caucasus country lacking significant natural resources and whose long-standing diplomatic and military partnership with Russia is now only causing problems.
After fighting broke out last week, the Armenian government said it was ready to resettle 40,000 people. refugee families.
But a spokeswoman for Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Tuesday evening that the government had so far managed to find housing for only 2,850 people.
The imminent humanitarian crisis poses political problems for N. Pashinian. On Tuesday, the opposition agreed to end six days of anti-government protests so authorities can focus on helping Nagorno-Karabakh refugees.
On the other hand, the opposition is divided and does not have a single personality capable of challenging N. Pashinyan. However, analysts say the opposition is led by Moscow and supporters of Nagorno-Karabakh separatists who have roots in the region. Their anger could increase after Azerbaijan on Wednesday arrested Ruben Vardanian – the Nagorno-Karabakh businessman who led the separatist government from November 2022 to February this year – while trying to enter Armenia .
“The influx of refugees will have a serious impact on the internal political situation in Armenia,” independent political analyst Boris Navasardian told AFP.
Source: The Delfi