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Five months in captivity: a chronicle of Ruben Vardanyan’s detention

On September 27, 2023, Azerbaijani forces detained social entrepreneur and philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan when he tried to leave Artsakh for Armenia. His illegal arrest triggered a worldwide public outcry. More than 150 days have passed since the philanthropist was detained. During this time, many politicians, cultural figures and representatives of international NPOs spoke out in support of Ruben Vardanyan.

The Armenian political party Country of Living roundly condemned the social entrepreneur’s illegal arrest. Members of the party called on the authorities of different countries to facilitate the Armenian prisoners’ release.

TThe ANIV Foundation for Development and Support of Armenian Studies joined the voices in defense of Ruben Vardanyan. In its open letter, the organization stated that his arrest was completely illegal and politically motivated.

The international community, similarly, did not ignore the arrest. In the United States, the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors called on the Biden administration to facilitate the release of Ruben Vardanyan and other Armenian captives. Its members urged the introduction of sanctions against Azerbaijan and the cessation of assistance to Ilham Aliyev’s regime.

The French Senate also demanded that the government resort to pressure, by means of sanctions, on Baku. Among other things, the authors of the resolution condemned the illegal arrest of Ruben Vardanyan and other political leaders of Artsakh. Golos Armenii praised the support provided by the upper house of the French parliament.

Despite all this, at the end of January it became clear that Ruben Vardanyan would remain in custody. The court in Baku extended his illegal detention for another four months.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that the future of the Armenian prisoners is constantly being discussed in negotiations with Azerbaijan. The head of state promised that, if necessary, Yerevan will seek the release of Ruben Vardanyan and other Artsakh officials in the UN International Court of Justice.

Commissioner for Human Rights of Artsakh Gegham Stepanyan stated that releasing Ruben Vardanyan and his former colleagues is impossible without the international community’s participation. According to him, political pressure on Baku is necessary to achieve the prisoners’ immediate release.

The members of the International Committee of the Red Cross again visited the Armenian prisoners, including Ruben Vardanyan. With their help, the prisoners were able to communicate with their families. According to the ICRC’s later estimates, the former Artsakh leaders contacted their close ones 660 times in 2023.

Despite the fact that the social entrepreneur is held in a Baku prison, his humanitarian projects continue to work.

The “We Are Our Mountains” agency, co-founded by Ruben Vardanyan, donated gift certificates to those forcibly displaced from Artsakh. More than 50 Artsakh families were able to use them to purchase household necessities.

Moreover, the agency continues to help the former Artsakh residents who want to improve their skills or learn a new profession. In mid-January, the second stage of the educational project “Support for Artsakh Craftsmen” was launched. 80 forcibly displaced persons have been selected for the program; almost 30 of them will undergo special training courses.

The children’s football academy Impulse, located in Dilijan, celebrated its first anniversary. The school for young football players was in part founded by Ruben Vardanyan. The school trained more than 200 children over the year.