Human Rights and Armenians’ Fate in Nagorno-Karabakh: A Conversation with Maggie Arutyunyan and Narine Vlasyan of CFTJ

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The logo of the Center for Truth & Justice – CFTJ (Credits: CFTJ Facebook Page)

Kavkaz Files ISSN 2975-0474 Volume 22 Issue 1
Author: Silvia Boltuc

On September 19th, 2023, Azerbaijan conducted a military operation against the defence forces in the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, which resulted in the forced displacement of 120,000 indigenous Armenians. The military offensive ensued after a 9-month blockade of the Lachin Corridor, resulting in the effective isolation of the Republic of Artsakh and its Armenian residents from the outside world and therefore giving rise to a humanitarian catastrophe. The implications of this military action extend beyond the immediate actors involved, with potential repercussions for the broader regional security landscape.

SpecialEurasia had a conversation with Maggie Arutyunyan, Esq., who serves as a member of the Board of Directors at the US-based Center for Truth and Justice (CFTJ), along with Narine Vlasyan, Project Coordinator. The purpose of the discussion is to gain a deeper understanding of the recent events in the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh and attempt to anticipate potential future developments.

Please introduce the Center for Truth and Justice (CFTJ) and its activities.

“The Center for Truth and Justice (“CFTJ”) is a nonprofit organisation that has been documenting war crimes since the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh by collecting first-hand testimonies from victims of war crimes. CFTJ preserves evidence and makes it available for educational purposes and potential legal actions. The evidence-gathering methodology used by CFTJ can be found here.

CFTJ is comprised of pro bono attorneys and law students in the US, Armenia, and formerly from Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as human rights advocates and other professionals, dedicated to amplifying the voices of victims of human rights violations, including discrimination, ethnic cleansing, displacement, war crimes, mass atrocities, and genocide.

CFTJ educates and trains law students and young lawyers in Armenia on evidence-based interview techniques, compliant with international legal standards and rules of evidence. The mission of CFTJ is to be a living memorial to crimes against humanity. By being a permanent home for testimonials, CFTJ serves to make first-hand accounts available for study, education, and legal action in order to foster education, empathy, justice, and change.”.

On September 19th, 2023, Azerbaijan forcibly displaced ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. What is the current situation in the region, specifically concerning the indigenous Armenians?

“In September 2020, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as Artsakh) had three branches of government with an established Parliament and functioned as a democracy with a free economy. Its total population consisted of 150,000 people, predominantly ethnic Armenians. In September 2023, following Azerbaijan’s military aggression on the region, the near-total population of Nagorno-Karabakh fled to the Republic of Armenia for safety. Today, there are only a few dozen Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh, mostly elderly and terminally ill people. As a result, Nagorno-Karabakh has ceased to exist as an independent and democratic republic. Today, for the first time in its history, Nagorno-Karabakh, Artsakh, stands devoid of Armenians.”.

SpecialEurasia published a report based on open sources about Armenophobia among Azeri Russian-speaking Telegram channels. Do you possess any sources or evidence of mistreatment against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijani soldiers or authorities?

“In modern-day Azerbaijan, state-funded Armenophobia, denial of Armenian history and erasure of Armenian cultural heritage have reached unprecedented levels. During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war and further attacks on Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper, ethnic hatred towards Armenians manifested itself through numerous cases of heinous war crimes committed by Azerbaijani armed forces. Tortures, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, beheadings, desecration and mutilation of corpses of dead Armenian female and male soldiers have become a widespread tactic of sowing terror among the Armenian population. There have also been cases of torture, killings and beheadings of civilians. Such cases have taken place in Nagorno-Karabakh as well as Armenia proper. One of the reasons for the surge of such barbarism is the glorification of violence and hatred towards Armenians by the Azerbaijani authorities. CFTJ has produced a detailed report on the desecration of Armenian soldiers’ corpses by Azerbaijan, which is based on the eye-witness testimonies of five relatives of the deceased servicemen that CFTJ interviewed and a survivor’s eye-witness testimony.”.

Read more | OSINT Report: Nagorno-Karabakh Crisis, Armenophobia and the so-called ‘Azerbaijani Telegram Channels’ in Russian language

Recently, Azerbaijan and Armenia exchanged prisoners, marking a positive initial step. Do you have any information or data regarding Armenian prisoners of war held by Azerbaijan, and what plans are in place for their future?

“The recent release of thirty two Armenian POWs by Baku has been achieved under considerable pressure from the international community. CFTJ’s efforts and campaign for the release of Armenian POWs have been highly instrumental in achieving this first positive result. To date, Azerbaijan is still illegally holding numerous Armenian POWs, hostages and political prisoners. During both the 2020 and 2023 wars against Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azerbaijani authorities detained some 200 Armenian civilians and military personnel. Azerbaijan has declared 300 former leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh wanted for alleged war crimes. Eight of these leaders were detained and humiliated in front of cameras, before being transferred to prisons in Baku. An unknown number of Armenian civilians have been taken hostage since 2020 by Azerbaijani security personnel in and around Nagorno-Karabakh and even within the borders of Armenia. Additionally, 36 Armenian POWs remain in Azerbaijani prisons, enduring an unknown amount of persecution.

Azerbaijan refuses to acknowledge that there are many more confirmed POWs in captivity. The Azerbaijani government has illegally tried and convicted many of the POWs in sham trials. CFTJ seeks to give a voice and justice to these victims of human rights violations.

Azerbaijan’s pattern of mistreating and torturing Armenian POWs violates international law. The Aliyev regime must be held accountable for these shocking human rights violations. You can learn more about mistreatment and tortures of Armenian POWs by Azerbaijan in this report by CFTJ, which is based on the testimonies of some of the returnees. Now that both wars are over, all POWs must be freed immediately in accordance with the Geneva Conventions but Azerbaijan refuses to comply. The international community, in particular the US, Russia, and EU mediators, as well as others, have an obligation to persuade Azerbaijan to free them unconditionally and immediately.”.

Recently, former Stepanakert authorities and Armenian officials accused Azerbaijan of pursuing a policy that jeopardises Armenian cultural and religious heritage. Given the significance of culture in geopolitics, could you provide a more detailed explanation of the situation on the ground concerning this issue?

“Azerbaijan has a record of state-sponsored cultural erasure of Armenian culture; this includes the total erasure of Armenian monuments and any traces of Armenian culture in Nakhijevan. If no immediate action is taken, the remaining Christian Armenian cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh will undoubtedly suffer the same fate as numerous other Armenian churches that fell under the Azerbaijani control, including the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral and the Saint John the Baptist Church in Shushi. The Ghazanchetsots Cathedral is a landmark in Shushi of Armenian cultural and religious identity. It was intentionally bombed twice on 8 October 2020 by Azerbaijani armed forces during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. After extensive damage to the cathedral, Shushi then fell to Azerbaijan, and recent images have revealed Azerbaijan’s ‘reconstruction’ (e.g., removal of the Christian cross on the highest dome) to use these sacred sites as a weapon to fabricate history. Recently, it has also been discovered through satellite imagery that a historical Armenian cemetery in Shushi was destroyed.”.

 Do you have any additional information or thoughts you’d like to share?

“In 2023, Azerbaijan conducted a complete ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. The nine-month long blockade of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic imposed by the dictatorial Aliyev regime in 2022 effectively stopped all food, sanitary, medical and other types of vital supplies from entering Nagorno-Karabakh. After keeping the entire population of the region under a siege for nine months, on September 19, 2023 Azerbaijan launched a military attack against the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which resulted in the exodus of the near-total Armenian population of the region. During this attack, there were numerous wounded and casualties among the civilian population, including children, women, and the elderly.

The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh were targeted, terrorized, maimed, killed, expelled, and forcefully deported out of their indigenous lands by Azerbaijan. However, their right to return and live on their lands remains inalienable and must be protected and pursued.”.

For those with an interest in acquiring comprehensive insights into the geopolitical dynamics of the South Caucasus, we encourage you to reach out to our team by sending an email to We are poised to facilitate an assessment of the opportunity for you to obtain a meticulously crafted and specialised report tailored to your intelligence needs.

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