Baku again detains Armenians at the Lachin checkpoint
Detention of Armenians at checkpoint on Khakari Bridge
The Armenian side officially reports “the kidnapping of 22-year-old Alen Sargsyan, a citizen of Artsakh who was travelling to Armenia for studies.” According to Azerbaijani media, three people have been detained and the young men are facing 10-day imprisonment for “insulting the Azerbaijani state flag in 2021”.
According to political observer Hakob Badalyan, in the current situation it is necessary to find “interim solutions to eliminate the blockade and ensure the security of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh”. He suggests using “diplomatic mobilisation”. In particular, he speaks about the need to bring together the positions of the United States and Russia on the Karabakh issue.
On 23 April 2023, Azerbaijan set up a checkpoint in the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting the unrecognised NKR with Armenia and the outside world. Since then, Armenians have travelled along it only when accompanied by Russian peacekeepers and staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross. However, even so, there are occasional incidents when crossing the checkpoint.
The detention of young people is not the first such case. On 29 July, 68-year-old Vagif Khachatryan, who was on his way to Armenia for medical treatment accompanied by the Red Cross, was detained here. Azerbaijan accuses him of “participation in the 1991 Meshala pogroms”. Khachatryan’s relatives claim that he has nothing to do with the offences of which he is accused.
“Headed to Yerevan to continue their studies”
The local information headquarters reports:
“There is no reliable information about the reasons for the kidnapping of Alen Sargsyan yet. Azerbaijan continues its genocidal policy towards the people of Artsakh, once again violating the norms of international humanitarian law”.
Tigran Petrosyan, chairman of the anti-crisis council, said during a live stream on social media that more than one student who was travelling to Yerevan to continue their studies has been detained:
“At the moment one has been taken away, the other is being interrogated. Lentsov [commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces] left, it turns out there was a reason for this. Everything was planned: he left, and the Azerbaijanis used this opportunity.”
“It’s reprehensible and unacceptable”
The Armenian Ombudsman considers reprehensible and unacceptable “the abduction by Azerbaijan of people who are transported to Armenia through the mediation of international actors”, including Russian peacekeepers.
“In this case we are dealing with gross violations of human rights on the part of the Azerbaijani authorities, I mean that international legal guarantees and standards generally recognised in the modern civilised world regarding interference in fundamental human rights are not respected,” Anahit Manasyan said.
“Alen Sargsyan was kidnapped and taken to an unknown direction with the use of force and coercion by representatives of Azerbaijani border and other services,” NK Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan said.
According to him, 170 people were travelling to Armenia. Azerbaijani border guards and employees of other services took five more people to a special room near the checkpoint for interrogation. Two of them, Vahe Hovsepyan and Levon Grigoryan, who are also students, have not crossed the checkpoint and cannot be contacted.
“The cases of abductions prove that the checkpoint has become a tool to serve Azerbaijani criminal arbitrariness, through which civilians are arbitrarily abducted by Azrerbaijanis and deprived of their freedom. The international legal and political guarantees of both the Red Cross and Russian peacekeepers are actually insufficient to protect the rights of the people of Artsakh, including ensuring free and safe movement,” Stepanyan said.
The human rights defender demanded that both international mediators take all possible measures “to ensure the safety of the humanitarian movement of people and the immediate return of the abductees.” He believes that without security guarantees the transport of civilians should be stopped.
The Ombudsmen of Armenia and MK stated that they will continue to collect facts and after summarizing them will present them to international organisations with a mandate to protect human rights.
What Baku accuses the detained of
Azerbaijan’s Trend news agency reported:
“In 2021, videos showing Armenian football players committing insulting actions against the Azerbaijani state flag were circulated in some media outlets and on various pages on social networks. In this regard, the General Prosecutor of Azerbaijan initiated a criminal case”.
The publication suggested that the detained young men would be subjected to administrative punishment and deported to Armenia.
“Wrestling with symbols”
The Armenian segment of social networks is no less active in discussing “the fight at the Azerbaijani checkpoint with the symbols of the NKR”. In addition to incidents with detentions, during the inspection Azerbaijani border guards found one of the Armenians in possession of backgammon with the image of the coat of arms of the unrecognised republic and the monument “We are our mountains”. It is more popularly known as “Grandfather-Grandmother”. The Azerbaijani Border Service confiscated the backgammon.
Azerbaijani border guards forced the removal of a banner with the inscription “Hotline of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Artsakh”, which also featured the coat of arms, from the ambulance.
“Meanwhile, during other discussions Azerbaijan cites examples such as Quebec or Catalonia, where national symbols are freely and widely used. It is time to realise that Azerbaijan’s goal is not peace and coexistence at all,” Gegham Stepanyan said.
“The Azerbaijanis have taken away the entire Lachin corridor from the Russian peacekeepers. What is it for them to take away a person they are transporting along the corridor? It is still a question, if, for example, they think of taking someone from the corridor from the Russian peacekeepers, will the Russian peacekeepers be able to prevent this,” says political observer Hakob Badalyan
According to him, the main question in the current situation is what the Armenian side is doing, especially after the incident with Vagif Khachatryan. He does not rule out that “after today’s kidnapping, talks about some international or Scandinavian peacekeepers will start again”. He believes that under no circumstances will international forces appear in the region:
“International [partners] will say, ‘Tear your throat out, tear yourselves apart to come to an agreement with Azerbaijan’.” And this is said quite openly”.
“The emphasis of our diplomatic work should be directed to [ensuring inhabitants’ safety], to do everything possible to bring their positions on our issues as close as possible, to take them out of the mode of creating problems and interfering with each other into the mode of working with each other.”
According to the analyst’s assessment, in order not to face the need for a general military mobilisation tomorrow, the will for a general diplomatic mobilisation must be shown today:
“The political authorities are obliged to be the initiator of this process, and the rest should be ready to mobilise.”
Detention of Armenians at the checkpoint on the Khakari Bridge