Azerbaijani authorities reportedly arrested three former presidents of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and the current speaker of the local legislature on Tuesday as they continued their takeover of the depopulated region.
They confirmed Azerbaijani media reports that two of the former presidents, Arkadi Ghukasian and Bako Sahakian, as well as speaker Davit Ishkhanian have already transported to Baku, while the third ex-president, Arayik Harutiunian, is on his way to the Azerbaijani capital. There was no such confirmation from Karabakh or Armenian sources.
Harutiunian resigned three weeks before Azerbaijan launched on September 19 a military offensive that forced Karabakh to disband its government and army, paving the way for the restoration of Azerbaijani control over the territory. His successor, Samvel Shahramanian, reportedly negotiated with Baku in recent days, trying to convince it to let the three ex-presidents and other Karabakh leaders go to Armenia.
Shahramanian’s chief of staff as well as Karabakh’s current premier Artur Harutiunian, interior minister and security service chief were allowed to cross into Armenia through an Azerbaijani checkpoint in the Lachin corridor earlier in the day. Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that when they headed to the Armenian border the ex-presidents were still in Stepanakert. He said nothing about Shahramanian’s whereabouts.
Karabakh’s former premier Ruben Vardanyan, former Foreign Minister Davit Babayan, former army commander Levon Mnatsakanian and his ex-deputy Davit Manukian were arrested by Azerbaijani security forces while travelling to Armenia through the Lachin corridor last week. They are now facing various “terrorism” charges carrying long prison sentences. Azerbaijan’s prosecutor-general said on Sunday that Baku also wants to arrest and prosecute about 300 other current or former political and military leaders of Karabakh.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan condemned the “illegal arrests” when he met with France’s visiting Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna late on Tuesday. He said this issue should also be “at the center of international attention.”