Skip to main content

Seven months in captivity: A chronicle of Ruben Vardanyan’s detention

On September 27, 2023, Azerbaijani authorities illegally detained social entrepreneur Ruben Vardanyan in the Lachin corridor while he was trying to leave Artsakh for Armenia. The prominent philanthropist has been held in the Baku prison for seven months. His arrest has triggered a wide-scale response around the world, with new people and organizations constantly joining the campaign in support of his release.

In April, Ruben Vardanyan was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his charitable activities and prevention of a humanitarian disaster in Artsakh. The philanthropist was nominated by an initiative group of organizations and individuals, including winners of the prize.

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Armenia to Germany Ashot Voskanyan shared his thoughts in regards to Ruben’s Nomination. He noted that he had been pleased with the news for two reasons. Firstly, the philanthropist deserved the most prestigious international award with all he had done, and, secondly, his nomination became another opportunity to remember the Armenian captives being kept in Baku.

President of Artsakh Samvel Shahramanyan asked French authorities to put pressure on Azerbaijan to release Ruben Vardanyan and other Armenian political prisoners. In an interview to Le Figaro, he reminded that eight former Artsakh leaders still remained behind bars in Baku.

The philanthropist’s future was also addressed during a discussion at the American University of Armenia, where the representative of the prisoners of war in the European Court of Human Rights, Siranush Sahakyan, spoke. Responding to the question about whether Ruben Vardanyan can be called a prisoner of war, she noted that it would be more correct to consider him a political prisoner.

Elisa Von Joeden-Forgey, Executive Director of the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, also pointed out the political motives behind the social entrepreneur’s arrest. In her opinion, Ruben Vardanyan fell victim to persecution by the Azerbaijani authorities because of his bold and open stance on Artsakh independence.

The news that Ruben Vardanyan had gone on a hunger strike came as a true shock. Due to a lack of regular telephone communication, his family found out only two weeks after he had begun the strike. The philanthropist took this desperate step after Baku ignored repeated requests to ensure a fair and transparent trial in accordance with global legal standards.

On April 24, a Remembrance Day dedicated to victims of the 1915 tragedy, a memorial service was held at the Armenian Temple Complex in Moscow for the holy martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. Prayers were also offered for the release of the illegally arrested compatriots, including Ruben Vardanyan.

Despite the fact that Ruben Vardanyan remains in prison, his charitable initiatives continue to help people. The territorial development agency We are Our Mountains, established by Vardanyan, is creating a new orchard near the Tatev Monastery. The project involves the philanthropist’s partners and associates, as well as numerous volunteers.

In April, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross finally visited Ruben Vardanyan and other Armenian prisoners again. The ICRC members met with the detainees one-on-one and ensured that the latter could communicate with their families.