Wednesday, November 1, 2023 More Armenians Jailed After Anti-Government Protests • Naira Bulghadarian Armenia - Riot police arrest an anti-government protester in Yerevan, September 22, 2023. Four more participants of recent anti-government protests in Yerevan, including a 16-year-old boy, have been arrested on what their lawyers and the Armenian opposition call politically motivated charges. The largely peaceful protests erupted spontaneously shortly after the Azerbaijani army went on the offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19, paving the way for the restoration of Baku’s full control over the Armenian-populated territory. They demanded that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian resign because of his failure to prevent the fall of Karabakh. Some demonstrators clashed with security forces outside the main government building in Yerevan. Opposition groups swiftly took over and stepped up the daily protests in the following days in an attempt to topple Pashinian. Their “civil disobedience” campaign fizzled out later in September. Riot police detained hundreds of people during the demonstrations. The majority of them were set free after spending several hours in police custody. At least 48 protesters, many of them university students, were charged with participating in “mass disturbances.” As of mid-October, 31 of them remained under arrest pending investigation. Armenia -- Armenians take part in an anti-government protest in central Yerevan on September 24, 2023. The fresh arrests were made over the weekend. All four men are natives of Nagorno-Karabakh facing the same charges. They include the 16-year-old Samvel Mirzoyan, who is suffering, according to his lawyer, from a heart problem. The lawyer, Abgar Poghosian, said on Wednesday, said a Yerevan court cited witness tampering concerns when it remanded Mirzoyan in pre-trial custody. Poghosian laughed off that explanation, saying that police officers are the only witnesses in the case and that his teenage client could simply not influence their testimony. “There is no doubt that this is a politically motivated case,” Poghosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “They want to arrest as many people as possible and thus create an atmosphere of fear,” he said, echoing the Armenian opposition’s assessments of the arrests. Opposition leaders have described the arrested protesters as political prisoners and demanded their immediate release. Two of them visited the latest detainees in custody. Armenia -- A protester waves the Karabakh flag as riot police officers guard the Armenian government building in Yerevan, September 2, 2023. Some human rights activists have also expressed concern over the mass arrests. One of them, Zaruhi Hovannisian, believes that the Armenian authorities’ reluctance to place the indicted protesters under house arrest testifies to the political character of these cases. The Investigative Committee, which is in charge of the cases, denies any political motives behind them, saying that the detainees assaulted police officers and threw rocks and other objects at the government building. Among the detainees is Tatev Virabian, a Karabakh-born mother of two who is prosecuted for not only allegedly hurling a bottle of water but also her Facebook post construed by the law-enforcement agency as a call for violent regime change. She strongly denies the accusations. Virabian’s lawyer, Arsen Babayan, expressed concern about the young woman’s health, saying that she recently fainted in her prison cell. Russia ‘Rotating Troops’ In Depopulated Karabakh Nagorno-Karabakh - Russian peacekeepers stand next to an armored vehicle at the checkpoint outside Stepanakert, October 7, 2023. The Russian military has said that it has rotated its peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and sent their weaponry to Russia “for planned repairs” after the mass exodus of the region’s ethnic Armenian population. Karabakh’s depopulation resulting from Azerbaijan’s September 19-20 military offensive called into question the continued presence of 2,000 or so Russian peacekeepers deployed there following the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani war. Over the past month they have dismantled most of their observation posts along the Karabakh “line of contact” that existed until the assault. “The rotation of the peacekeeping contingent’s personnel as well as the sending of weapons and military equipment to the Russian Federation for planned repairs is being completed,” read a statement released by Russia’s Defense Ministry late on Tuesday. It said the contingent keeps cooperating with Baku on “preventing bloodshed, ensuring security and observing humanitarian law in relation to the civilian population.” Only several dozen ethnic Armenians are thought to remain in Karabakh. A senior Russian diplomat said on October 9 that despite the exodus, condemned by Armenia as “ethnic cleansing,” the peacekeepers should remain in the region because their mission “will also be necessary in the future.” Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev discussed the issue when they met in Kyrgyzstan four days later. They announced no agreements on the future of the Russian presence in Karabakh. Armenian leaders have denounced the Russians for their failure to prevent, stop or even condemn the Azerbaijani military operation. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian insisted last week that they were “unable or unwilling to ensure the security of the Karabakh Armenians.” Moscow has rejected the criticism. It has also bristled at European Union leader Charles Michel’s recent assertion that “Russia has betrayed the Armenian population” of Karabakh. More Karabakh Captives Identified • Ruzanna Stepanian Nagorno-Karabakh - A view through a car window shows abandoned vehicles in Stepanakert an Azeri military operation and mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from the region, October 2, 2023. Azerbaijan detained not only eight current and former leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh but also at least as many other Karabakh Armenians following its September 19-20 military offensive, a senior Armenian law-enforcement official said on Wednesday. “There are also captives who are not high-ranking officials. The capture of those individuals has been confirmed,” Argishti Kyaramian, the head of Armenia’s Investigative Committee, told reporters. Kyaramian did not identify any of those captives. RFE/RL’s Armenian Service found out about one of them, Melikset Pashayan, last week. Pashayan lived in the Karabakh village of Sznek. According to his relatives, he went missing while trying to help evacuate elderly and sick people unable to flee the village on their own. Pashayan’s wife said he subsequently phoned her from Baku and said he is in Azerbaijani custody. Karabakh’s three former presidents -- Arayik Harutiunian, Bako Sahakian and Arkadi Ghukasian -- as well as current parliament speaker Davit Ishkhanian were taken to Baku to face grave criminal charges in late September. Their detentions followed the mass exodus of Karabakh’s residents that left the enclave almost fully depopulated. Karabakh’s former premier Ruben Vardanyan, former Foreign Minister Davit Babayan, former army commander Levon Mnatsakanian and his ex-deputy Davit Manukian were arrested by Azerbaijani security forces last week while trying to enter Armenia through the Lachin corridor. The Armenian government strongly condemned the arrests and urged the international community to help it secure the release of the Karabakh leaders. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry rejected the criticism, saying that they will go on trial for promoting separatism, organizing “terrorist acts” and participating in “aggression against Azerbaijan.” Baku has so far acknowledged only nine Karabakh detainees. Kyaramian insisted that their confirmed number stands at 16. The figure does not include 30 Karabakh soldiers and 12 civilians who Kyaramian’s law-enforcement agency says went missing during the Azerbaijani assault and remain unaccounted for. Yerevan Says Keen To Allay Russian Concerns Over International Court Treaty • Siranuysh Gevorgian Armenia - The building of the Armenian Foreign Ministry in Yerevan. Armenia has again offered to sign an agreement with Russia to address Moscow’s concerns about Yerevan’s recent acceptance of jurisdiction of an international court that issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March. Despite stern warnings from the Russian leadership, the Armenian parliament ratified on October 3 the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC) known as the Rome Statute. The move initiated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and condemned by Moscow added to unprecedented tensions between the two states. Russian officials said it will cause serious damage to Russian-Armenian relations. They dismissed Yerevan’s assurances that the ratification does not commit it to arresting Putin and handing him over to the ICC in the event of his visit to Armenia. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin said on October 9 that Moscow presented the Armenian government with “certain proposals” on the issue. He suggested that Yerevan is “either still thinking about them or has decided to reject them.” In a statement to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Yerevan has responded to those proposals. But it did not disclose them. “In the context of proposals conveyed by the Russian side regarding the process of ratification of the Rome Statute by Armenia, the Armenian side came up with a proposal to conclude a corresponding bilateral agreement which can dispel the concerns of the Russian Federation,” the ministry said, adding that it has not received an “official written response” from Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed on October 3 the proposed bilateral treaty related to the ICC. He said it is not clear how Yerevan can “put in place special conditions, exceptions.” For his part, Putin said on October 13 that the ratification of the ICC treaty will not stop him from visiting Armenia again in the future and that he and Pashinian “remain in touch.” The tensions between the two longtime allies have not eased since then. Reposted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2023 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.