An Armenian couple and their three young children unexpectedly returned to Armenia on Friday almost five years after fleeing to Azerbaijan in dramatic circumstances.
Yeghishe Gevorgian, his wife Ruzanna, two sons and daughter were escorted by officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as they crossed the Azerbaijani-Armenian border in the morning. The repatriation was agreed with relevant authorities in the two warring nations.
Gevorgian drove his family to Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave in January 2010 through a heavily militarized border checkpoint located about 50 kilometers southeast of Yerevan. The Armenian military said at the time that its soldiers manning the Yeraskh crossing, closed to traffic ever since the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, did not fire on Gevorgian’s old van because it carried the children then aged 3, 6 and 7.
The family was subsequently paraded on Azerbaijani television on a number of occasions. Gevorgian was shown complaining about poor living conditions at home and praising the Azerbaijani authorities’ treatment of his family. Still, the couple were said to have asked the authorities to help them emigrate to a third country.
“No country agreed to take them in, and the family decided to return to Armenia,” the Azerbaijani pro-government news agency Trend reported on Friday. It claimed that Gevorgian repeatedly “blackmailed” Azerbaijani and Red Cross officials with threats to go on hunger strike or even commit suicide. “He tried to pressure relevant international organizations and emphasize the importance of their dispatch to a third country,” it said.
A Red Cross spokeswoman in Yerevan, Zara Amatuni, confirmed that Gevorgian and his wife themselves requested repatriation.
The former fugitives underwent a medical examination in Yerevan’s Surp Grigor Lusavorich hospital later in the day. The spouses spoke to reporters afterwards, both of them saying that they are “not traitors” and never sought asylum in a third country.
It remained unclear why Gevorgian, who reportedly has a long criminal record, decided to take refuge in Azerbaijan together with his loved ones. “Because I wanted to,” he said vaguely.
The 55-year-old also claimed that the family was not mired in poverty before its dramatic escape. “I had a job in Armenia,” he said.
The Gevorgians also said that they have been kept as “prisoners” in the Azerbaijani military police headquarters in Baku. Yeghishe claimed to have been tortured by Azerbaijani interrogators.
A senior hospital doctor, Robert Orhusian, told the press, however, that no traces of ill-treatment were founded on the bodies of Gevorgian and his wife and children. He described their health condition as “satisfactory.
Andranik Mkrtumian, a senior Armenian Defense Ministry official accompanying the family, said that Gevorgian is “liable to prosecution” for illegally crossing the border. Mkrtumian added that “corresponding bodies” will decide whether to press charges against him.
Earlier this year, a five-member Azerbaijani family crossed into Armenia via Georgia and asked for political asylum. The authorities in Yerevan granted the request filed by 38-year-old Javid Orujev and his wife Roya Mirzoyeva. According to Armenia’s National Security Service, they claimed to have been harassed by and forced to spy for Azerbaijani intelligence because of Mirzoyeva’s ethnic Armenian origin.