YEREVAN — Ruben Vardanyan, former Prime Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh republic was arrested by Azerbaijani authorities on Wednesday while trying to leave the region along with thousands of Karabakh Armenians.
Azerbaijan’s state security service said that he was detained in the Lachin corridor and taken to Baku. It gave no reason for the arrest.
“Vardanyan was handed over to relevant state bodies so that they make a decision regarding him,” the APA news agency quoted it as saying.
Baku also circulated a photograph of a handcuffed Vardanyan escorted by Azerbaijani officers at an unspecified airfield.
Vardanyan “has been arrested and held captive by the Azerbaijani authorities at the border as he attempted to leave this morning, along with thousands of Armenians escaping Azerbaijani occupation,” Veronika Zonabend, Vardanyan’s wife, said in a statement to the press.
“Ruben stood with the Artsakh people during the 10-month blockade [by Azerbaijan] and suffered along with them in the struggle for survival,” she said in a statement. “I ask for your prayers and support to ensure my husband’s safe release.”
Vardanyan, 55, is a former investment banker who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s and 2000s. He is also known as a philanthropist who has financed many charity projects in Armenia and Karabakh.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said it will do its best to try to secure the prominent tycoon’s release and expects the support of Russia and “other international partners” in that endeavor.
“The Armenian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stressed the necessity of unimpeded movement of people from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia through the Lachin corridor,” it said in a statement to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Vardanyan is the first Karabakh leader taken into Azerbaijani custody since then. It was not clear whether other current and former Karabakh officials could also be arrested in case of leaving Karabakh. Baku had issued arrest warrants for some of them.
Meanwhile, Moscow pointedly declined to comment on the arrest. “I don’t have such information, so I can’t say anything about that issue,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
Armenian government has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) with a demand to oblige the Azerbaijani authorities to provide information about the whereabouts and condition of Ruben Vardanyan.
“The Armenian side demanded that the ECHR oblige Baku to provide information about where Vardanyan was taken and in what condition he is now,” the Press Service of the Office of Armenia’s Representative for International Legal Matters reported.