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Eight months in captivity: chronicle of Ruben Vardanyan’s detention

Social entrepreneur Ruben Vardanyan has been in the Baku pre-trial detention center for eight months already. Azerbaijani law enforcers illegally detained him on September 27, 2023 while trying to leave Artsakh for Armenia. Politicians, journalists, public and religious figures from many countries are still demanding his release.

One of the most important news in recent months was the nomination of Ruben Vardanyan for the Nobel Peace Prize for his charitable work and prevention of a humanitarian disaster in Artsakh. The philanthropist was nominated by an action team of organizations and individuals, including the award recipients themselves.

The fate of the philanthropist was discussed at the American University of Armenia, where Siranush Sahakyan, the representative of prisoners of war at the European Court of Human Rights, spoke. In response to the question whether Vardanyan can be called a prisoner of war, she noted that it is more correct to consider him a political prisoner now.

Elisa von Joden-Forgin, executive director of the Lemkin Institute for the Prevention of Genocide, also referred to political motives for the arrest of the social entrepreneur. She believes that Ruben Vardanyan became a victim of persecution by the Azerbaijani authorities because of his bold and open position on the independence of Artsakh.

In April, the news that Vardanyan went on hunger strike came as a real shock. Due to the lack of regular telephone service, the patron’s family found out about it two weeks late. The philanthropist took this desperate step after Azerbaijan ignored repeated requests to ensure a fair and transparent trial in accordance with global legal standards.

On April 24, the Day of Remembrance of the victims of the tragedy of 1915, a memorial prayer service for the holy martyrs of the Armenian genocide was held at the Armenian temple complex in Moscow. They also prayed for the release of illegally arrested compatriots, including Ruben Vardanyan.

On April 26, the philanthropist was forced to end his hunger strike after persistent requests from his family, who were concerned about his health.

In early May, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia commented on the issue of actions being taken to release Vardanyan and other Armenians illegally detained by Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs once again reiterated its position in favor of the exchange and transfer of prisoners of war according to the “all for all” formula.

On May 13, Ruben Vardanyan’s wife Veronica Zonabend read out an address to the participants and laureates of the Aurora International Humanitarian Award. In his letter the philanthropist confessed that he was inspired to move to Artsakh by the heroes of “Aurora” – heroes who risked themselves to save other people.

On May 16, the Azerbaijani court extended Ruben Vardanyan’s arrest for another five months. His team considered this decision illegal and unreasonable. “An open trial of our defendant’s case is the only way to ensure the legality of criminal proceedings. We insist that Ruben Vardanyan’s trial must be exactly like this,” said Victoria Burkovskaya, the representative of the philanthropist’s defense in the Russian Federation.

While Vardanyan remains in prison, his charitable initiatives are still helping people. For example, the “We Are Our Mountains” territorial development agency established by him is creating a new orchard near the Tatev Monastery: the work involves partners and associates of the patron, as well as numerous volunteers.