Azerbaijan has announced the arrest of Ruben Vardanyan, the former head of the separatist government of Nagorno-Karabakh, as he was trying to flee to Armenia on Wednesday. Vardanyan, a billionaire businessman who moved to the disputed region in 2022 and served as its leader for several months, was captured by Azerbaijani border guards and taken to Baku for interrogation.
The arrest came after Azerbaijan launched a 24-hour offensive last week to reclaim full control over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous territory that had been run by ethnic Armenian separatists for about 30 years.
The operation, which involved heavy artillery, rocket launchers and drones, forced the separatists to agree to lay down their weapons and start talks on the “reintegration” of the region into Azerbaijan.
However, the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population, which makes up about 90 percent of its 120,000 residents, remains unclear. Despite Azerbaijan’s assurances that it would respect their rights and culture, tens of thousands of them have fled the region for Armenia, fearing reprisals and discrimination. According to the Armenian authorities, over 47,000 people have left Nagorno-Karabakh as of Wednesday.
Azerbaijan’s arrest of Vardanyan is seen as a sign of its determination to assert its sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh and prevent any future attempts of secession. It is also likely to increase tensions with Armenia, which considers Nagorno-Karabakh as part of its historical homeland and supports its right to self-determination.