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Azerbaijan Detains So-Called Former “Leader” of Karabakh Separatists

By Yaver Kazimbeyli October 4, 2023

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Arayik Harutunyan, the fifth self-proclaimed "president" of the illegal separatist regime in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan / Courtesy

Azerbaijan’s State Security Service detained on Tuesday Arayik Harutunyan, the so-called former “president” of illegal separatist regime in the Karabakh (Garabagh) region.

Harutunyan’s detention came after operative measures by Azerbaijan, following the counter-terrorist operation in the Karabakh region last month.

Harutunyan remained in Khankendi (Karabakh) after Azerbaijan’s one-day anti-terror operation from September 19 to 20 which led to the surrender and disarmament of the separatists.

He served as the so-called “president” of the illegal separatist regime in Azerbaijan's Karabakh region from May 21, 2020, until his resignation on September 1, 2023. Before this role, he served twice as the “prime minister” of the separatist regime. Later, he served as the “state minister” after the post of “prime minister” was renamed in 2017.

Harutyunyan led the so-called Azad Hayrenik (Free Fatherland) party of the separatists in the Karabakh region. He fought against Azerbaijan in the First Karabakh War in 1992.

His detention is based on charges of separatist and terrorist activities in Azerbaijan, including the missile strikes on civilians during the 44-day war in 2020.

On October 4, 2020, Harutunyan ordered the firing of rockets on Gandja, the second-largest city in Azerbaijan, located 100 kilometers from the combat zone. This killed one civilian and wounded 30 others.

Yerevan-backed separatists led by Harutunyan said the offensive targeted military buildings and the airport in Gandja. However, the Azerbaijani side submitted facts that there were no military facilities in the city.

Following the attack, Harutunyan warned of more missile strikes should Baku not stop the counter-attack operation.

Throughout the 2020 war, Gandja was repeatedly subjected to rocket attacks.

Following the first attack on October 4, the Armenian military targeted the city on October 5, 8, 10, and 17. The civilian death toll in the wake of the assaults stood at 32, and at least 125 others were wounded.

Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) confirmed that unguided Smerch artillery rockets and Scud-B ballistic missiles were used in attacks on Gandja. Scud-B missiles, which are capable of carrying a 985-kg high-explosive warhead, cannot be directed at a specific military target.

During on-site investigations in Azerbaijan in November, 2020, Human Rights Watch documented 11 incidents in which Armenian forces used ballistic missiles, unguided artillery rockets, and large-caliber artillery projectiles that hit populated areas in apparent indiscriminate attacks. In at least four other cases, munitions struck civilians or civilian objects in areas where there were no apparent military targets.

“Armenian forces repeatedly launched missiles, unguided rockets, and heavy artillery into populated cities and villages in violation of the laws of war,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, following on-site investigations of the outcomes of the Armenian missile offensives.

The Azerbaijani government strongly condemned the attacks as acts of genocide against the Azerbaijani people. Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev called it a “state-sponsored terrorism” by Armenia, urging condemnation from the international community.

Meanwhile, the State Security Service also reportedly detained on Tuesday Harutunyan’s “predecessors” Bako Sahakyan and Arkady Gukasyan. The so-called “parliamentary speaker” of the separatists in the Karabakh region, David Ishkhanyan, was also detained.

Earlier arrests include Armenian tycoon and former “state minister” of the separatists, Ruben Vardanyan; former “deputy commander” of the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army,” David Manukyan; “commander” of the separatist troops, Levon Mnatsakanyan; former “foreign minister” of the separatists, David Babayan; and, “secretary” of the so-called “Security Council,” Ararat Melkumyan.

Azerbaijan continues the operative measures to bring other separatist criminals to law. Former “defence minister” Jalal Harutunyan, former “security council chief” Vitaly Balasanyan, and “Artsakh national hero” Lieutenant-General Arshavir Garamyan are reportedly on the international wanted list on charges of atrocities against Azerbaijanis during the First Karabakh War in 1991-1994.