The Prosecutor General’s Office and the State Security Service of Azerbaijan announced the detention on Tuesday, October 3, in the city of Khankendi of the ex-president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) Arayik Harutyunyan. This is stated in a statement from the press service of the country’s supervisory agency.
As the Prosecutor General’s Office clarified, a criminal case has been opened against Harutyunyan. He was charged with unleashing a war of aggression and terrorism. In total, he is accused under nine articles of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
According to investigators, Harutyunyan, as the head of the unrecognized NKR, “participated in an aggressive war on the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” and was also involved in the recruitment, training and financing of mercenaries who participated in hostilities against the armed forces of Azerbaijan.
Earlier, a number of Azerbaijani media reported about the detention of Harutyunyan and two other former leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh, Arkady Ghukasyan and Bako Sahakyan. According to them, the security forces brought all the detainees to Baku, where they were charged with “numerous crimes.”
On September 29, it became known that the Azerbaijani military had detained the former commander of the army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), Lieutenant General Levon Mnatsakanyan, and the ex-chairman of the Karabakh “Security Council” Arshavir Gharamyan.
And a day earlier, on September 28, the court arrested the former head of government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, billionaire Ruben Vardanyan, for four months. He has been charged with financing terrorism, participating in the creation and activities of illegal armed groups and illegally crossing the state border.
The territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has been going on since the late 1980s. Populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, with the support of Armenia, declared secession from the Azerbaijan SSR, and in September 1991 announced the creation of the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”.
During the armed conflict of 1988–1994, 30 thousand people died in the separatist region. Nagorno-Karabakh and several adjacent regions of Azerbaijan came under the de facto control of the Armenian armed forces. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly ethnic Azerbaijanis, became refugees and internally displaced persons.
The “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” is not officially recognized by any UN country, including Armenia. In 1993, the UN adopted four resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the Karabakh region and recognition of the territory as part of Azerbaijan.
After another escalation of the situation at the end of September 2020, Azerbaijan returned to its control the areas around Nagorno-Karabakh and took the ancient and symbolically significant city of Shusha (Shushi in Armenian). The day after the capture of Shushi, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a ceasefire statement in Nagorno-Karabakh. Under the terms of the agreement, Armenia and Azerbaijan are assigned the territories where troops were located at the time the document was signed. A Russian peacekeeping mission is stationed along the contact line.
After this, Azerbaijan began a blockade of areas of Karabakh populated by ethnic Armenians: checkpoints were set up on the only road that did not allow any cargo, including food and humanitarian aid, into the region. Residents of Armenian areas of Karabakh have reported hunger in recent weeks.
On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan launched an “anti-terrorist operation” in the areas of Karabakh populated by ethnic Armenians: it ended with the capitulation of the authorities of the self-proclaimed republic. On September 28, the head of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Samvel Shahramanyan, signed a decree on the termination of its existence from January 1, 2024 and the dissolution of state institutions.