Refugees Arthur Apresyan and Roman Taryan were among 400,000 Armenians who survived Azerbaijan pogroms and massacres in the beginning of 1990; however a decade later the two men found Azerbaijan as a perfect transition country to immigrate to the West.
Arthur Apresyan (photographed last year)..
Apresyan, 48 and Taryan, 38 escaped to Azerbaijan last month leaving their families and friends in Armenia in shock and anger. According to sources in Baku, the men went to Azerbaijan through Sadakhlo (on the border of Georgia) and upon their arrival appealed to Baku based ANS broadcasting company to make their intentions public via broadcast.
The Armenian National TV retranslated the press conference aired by ANS, in which the two men described the heavy social and economic situation in Armenia and their disappointment caused by the threat of renewal of the Karabakh war. They said they could not stay in Armenia any long and requested political asylum from international offices in Baku and asked to be sent to a third country.
The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) office in Baku as well as other international institutions gave no response to the refugees’ request. According to Baku based Zerkalo newspaper last week two Armenians went on hunger strike in the isolation ward of the National Security Ministry of Azerbaijan.
The Armenians’ protest was against “ Baku representation of the UNHCR for ignoring their fate and not contributing to the solving of the issue of transferring them to a third country.” The refugees expressed concerns over the state of their families in Armenia and said there is no way back to Armenia after the statements they made earlier at the press conference. Among other things the refugees said that there are Azerbaijani captives in Armenia who are forced to cultivate narcotic plants in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The unexpected departure of the refugees to Baku and their statements shocked the Armenian public. For the first time Armenians voluntary found themselves in Baku to announce they are for giving Karabakh territory back to Azerbaijan.
Neither Apresyan nor Taryan had Armenian citizenship, but refugee status. Taryan is divorced and Apresyan has a wife and two children.
Apresyan’s wife Margarita told ArmeniaNow she had no idea of her husband’s intentions.
“He left not a single note, he just disappeared. A few days later I saw him by TV,” she says. “I believe he was in temporary insanity when he took that decision to leave his family, his children, to ask for help from Baku.”
Margarita said that a few days ago an Azerbaijani journalist called her and said that her husband and his friend went on hunger strike.
“She told me ‘they are starving, can you help them?’ The question made me crazy and I said ‘How am I supposed to help them? To come to Baku and feed them?’ But I think what they wanted to know was if I too have intentions to join them,” she said.
Margarita also got a letter from her husband which was delivered through the Azerbaijani Red Cross. Arthur was asking to forgive him, saying that he is not a spy and was promising that everything will be fine.
Margarita said that the family has been experiencing hard social difficulties for many years. Neither wife nor husband had permanent work and sometimes they had no money for buying food. The family live in a hostel in the territory of HayElectroMash plant, which was a rest house for the plant’s workers during Soviet times.
“What these two Armenians did was shameful,” said one of their neighbors. “Many refugees experience the same difficulties and live even worse but no one even thought of becoming a traitor in exchange of being delivered to a European country. They will have no comfort whenever they go, because Armenians live in many countries and will never excuse them.”
Citing confidentiality policy, the Yerevan office of the International Committee of the Red Cross would not comment on the case.
“When we get information we keep in touch with the families of the two refugees,” said Roza Minasyan, the spokesperson of Yerevan office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“Each person has a right for free movement and these two people exercise their rights. They do not break any law, as for the moral side of that issue let them decide it for themselves,” she said.
The further destiny of the Armenians in Baku remains unclear. Some in Baku are concerned that their hunger strike could generate a negative opinion of how Azerbaijan is honoring its commitments to the Council of Europe requiring the settlement of political refugees and emigrant cases in compliance with international law. At the same time one Baku newspapers writes that “The fact that the Armenians are held in a solitary confinement cell is a blow on Azerbaijan’s image, while the country might well benefit from these people’s protest against Armenian leadership towards the Karabakh issue.”
Meanwhile Azerbaijani human rights activist Sahib Mamedov said that the arrival of Armenian refugees to Azerbaijan is one more provocation of the Armenian special services who perfectly know that Azerbaijan will not be able to grant them refugee status and contribute to their transportation to a third country.