BREAKING: Ruben Vardanyan detained by Azerbaijan while trying to leave Karabakh

Ruben Vardanyan, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist who briefly served as Nagorno-Karabakh’s state minister, was detained by Azerbaijan Wednesday as he tried to leave Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia.

Vardanyan “has been arrested and held captive by the Azerbaijani authorities at the border as he attempted to leave this morning, along with thousands of Armenians escaping Azerbaijani occupation,” Veronika Zonabend, Vardanyan’s wife, said in a statement to the press.

The well-known Azerbaijani Telegram channel Maiden Tower released a photograph appearing to show Azerbaijanis detaining Vardanyan.

Meanwhile, Russia’s TASS news agency reported that Vardanyan “was detained while crossing the Hakari bridge,” referring to the location of an Azerbaijani checkpoint set up earlier this year along the Lachin corridor in violation of the ceasefire declaration that ended the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. TASS cited only an unnamed source in Vardanyan’s “inner circle.”

As of publication, neither Yerevan nor Baku had commented publicly on the detention of Vardanyan, who served as Nagorno-Karabakh’s state minister, a post akin to prime minister, from last November to this February.

It is believed to be Azerbaijan’s first detention of a high-ranking Nagorno-Karabakh official since launching strikes across the region last week.

As of noon local time Wednesday, more than 42,000 people had arrived in Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, according to the latest official figures.

This news story refers to breaking developments and will be updated.