The 68-year-old Vagif Khachatrian was among Karabakh patients escorted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Armenian hospitals for urgent treatment. He was detained at an Azerbaijani checkpoint in the Lachin corridor and then charged with killing and deporting Karabakh’s ethnic Azerbaijani residents at the start of the first Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Azerbaijani authorities have implicated Khachatrian in the alleged killings of 25 Azerbaijanis from the Karabakh village of Meshali captured by Karabakh Armenian forces in December 1991. He lived in another village close to Meshali during and after the 1991-199 war.
The man’s family strongly denies the accusations, saying that he was a tractor driver and was never in a position to commit any war crimes.
Khachatrian, who was due to undergo a heart surgery in Yerevan, looked distraught and unwell as he appeared before a military court in Baku. Videos circulated by Azerbaijani media showed him repeatedly putting his right hand on his heart during the opening session of his trial.
One of his three daughters currently living in Armenia cried when she commented on those images. “I find no words to describe my feelings,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry condemned the “sham trial.” Its spokeswoman, Ani Badalian, insisted that Khachatrian was arrested and prosecuted “in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”
“Armenian POWs and civilians still held hostage in Baku should be released,” Badalian wrote on the X social media platform.
They include eight former political and military leaders of Karabakh who were arrested at the Azerbaijani checkpoint late last month during the mass exodus of the region’s ethnic Armenian population resulting from Azerbaijan’s September 19-20 military offensive. They are facing various grave accusations rejected by the Armenian government as well as current Karabakh officials.
Sources told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Friday that the detainees, among them three former Karabakh presidents and Armenian-born billionaire Ruben Vardanyan, were allowed to phone their families in Armenia in recent days.
Another detainee, Davit Manukian, was a deputy commander of the Karabakh army until 2021. Manukian’s brother Gegham, who is an Armenian opposition parliamentarian, said he had to speak to speak to his family members in Russian during their brief conversation on Wednesday.
The ICRC confirmed, meanwhile, that so far Baku has not allowed its representatives to visit any of the jailed Karabakh leaders in custody.