Lebanese-Armenian freed from Azerbaijani prison lands in Beirut after four months in jail

Middle East Eye
March 12 2021
Maral Najarian left Beirut after last year's port blast, only to be caught up in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict 

By Kareem Chehayeb
in Beirut, Lebanon

A Lebanese-Armenian woman who spent four months in an Azerbaijani prison following last year's conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has landed in Beirut.

Maral Najarian, who went missing on 10 November following a Russian-brokered ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, landed in the Lebanese capital late on Wednesday.

"Up until I got on the plane [to Beirut], I could not believe any of this was real," a distraught Najarian told Lebanese-Armenian radio station Voice of Van.

"I kept thinking 'they're going to come and kidnap me again'."

Lebanese-Armenian family searches for woman who disappeared in Nagorno-Karabakh

Lebanon's caretaker Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe thanked the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian governments, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross for facilitating her release following weeks of negotiations.

Born and raised in Lebanon, Najarian moved to Armenia in August 2020, just weeks after the devastating Beirut Port explosion.

She claimed her Armenian citizenship, and moved to the Artsakh Republic in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

After hostilities flared between Armenia and Azerbaijan, she temporarily moved back to the Armenian capital for the duration of the six-week conflict.

More than 5,000 combatants and at least 143 civilians were killed in the fighting. Tens of thousands of people were displaced. 

Upon returning to Nagorno-Karabakh the day of a Russian-brokered ceasefire, Azerbaijani forces arrested both Najarian and family friend Viken Euljekian. 

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry told MEE on 11 February that Euljekian was being held on a number charges including "terrorism", but did not respond to questions about specific accusations against Najarian or details of the charges against her.

They confirmed she was detained, adding that she had an "unofficial marriage" with a family friend.

On 13 February, Hagop Pakradounian, the president of the Lebanese-Armenian Tashnag Party, contacted the Lebanese foreign ministry to enquire about Najarian and help facilitate her release.

According to the party, the Lebanese foreign ministry called on ambassadors in Armenia, Russia, and Iran for information on her case. They said she would be released within the following two days, although that failed to transpire. 

Najarian, 49, said on Thursday that she had contemplated self-harm after seeing several razor blades in one of the bathrooms at the prison.

Meanwhile, Najarian's sister, Sossi, feared she would return in a "worse condition".  

"When her [Maral's] daughter told me Wednesday morning that she was coming home while I was at work, I was so overwhelmed with emotion – my manager told me to take the day off," she told MEE.

"We burst into tears when we saw each other. It's a miracle that she's home."

Najarian's family said she had been transferred to a hospital to run medical tests and see a therapist. 

The United Nations has expressed concern about alleged mistreatment of both military and civilian captives in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Amnesty International has also documented torture and extrajudicial killings of captives. 

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