BEIRUT — Lebanese-Armenian Maral Najarian was set free on Wednesday four months after being detained by Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The 49-year-old was flown from Baku to Beirut via Istanbul immediately after her release demanded by the Armenian and Lebanese governments.
The Armenian parliament speaker, Ararat Mirzoyan, on Thursday thanked the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Valentina Matvienko, for helping to secure Najarian’s release. In a statement, Mirzoyan said Matvienko raised the issue with Azerbaijani authorities after appeals from him and female members of Armenia’s parliament.
Mirzoyan said he is going to propose to the Parliamentary Council to award Mrs. Matvienko a Medal of Honor.
“I am full of hope that the joint efforts with our partners will allow us to return all the prisoners of war and captives one day,” Mirzoyan said.
Like hundreds of other Lebanese nationals of Armenian descent, Najarian and her sister Ani migrated to Armenia following last August’s devastating explosion at Beirut’s port. They decided to relocate to Karabakh just days before the September 27 outbreak of the Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Najarian did travel to Karabakh together with a Lebanese-Armenian friend, Viken Euljekian, on November 10 hours after a Russian-brokered ceasefire stopped the six-hour war. They were detained in the Karabakh town of Shushi (Shusha) and taken to Baku.
Najarian says they did not know that Shushi was captured by the Azerbaijani army earlier in November.
Euljekian, who lived in Shushi and worked as a taxi driver before the war, is still held in an Azerbaijani prison, facing terrorism charges condemned by the Armenian government and human rights groups.
Najarian risked similar accusations, with Azerbaijani media still portraying her as an enemy combatant.
“They suspected that I’m a spy because of my knowledge of Turkish,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Thursday.
“I thought I am going to die there,” she said, speaking from her Beirut home via video link. “I wasn’t tortured there … but I suffered psychological damage.”
“We are very grateful to everyone: Armenia, Lebanon and Russia,” said her sister remaining in Yerevan.
Najarian also said that she was held in solitary confinement in three different Azerbaijani prisons and never saw any other Armenian prisoners.
Several other Armenians were also captured by Azerbaijan troops when they travelled to Karabakh from Armenia on November 10.
A senior Karabakh official said in late December that at least 40 Karabakh Armenian civilians remain unaccounted for after the war. He expressed hope that most of them are still alive.
Azerbaijan is also believed to be holding more than 100 Armenian prisoners of war in what the Armenian side considers a gross violation of the ceasefire agreement brokered by Moscow.