BAKU (RFE/RL)—An Armenian dissident has defected to Azerbaijan in a case that is sure to rankle in Yerevan.
Vahan Martirosian, the head of the non-governmental organization Internal National Liberation Movement, told reporters in Baku on September 18 that he had requested political asylum in Azerbaijan.
He slammed the policies of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, calling them anti-Armenian, and said Azerbaijani media are the only sources offering “truthful information” about the current situation in Armenia.
Martirosian claimed that he had been persecuted by Armenian authorities for his political activities and therefore decided to defect to Azerbaijan together with his wife and their toddler son.
The Armenian Investigative Committee said on September 17 after reports about Martirosian’s defection started circulating in regional media that Martirosian had been added to a wanted list.
Sona Truzian, an adviser to the Armenian Investigative Committee’s chairman, said that Martirosian was suspected of stealing the equivalent of $4,000 from someone in Yerevan.
Truzian also said that Martirosian had filed a complaint claiming that he and his wife had been attacked by the security personnel of an Armenian lawmaker but never showed up to talk to investigators.
Armenian media outlets reported earlier that Martirosian and his wife were beaten in mid-August by the bodyguards of Mher Sedrakian, a lawmaker representing the ruling Republican Party in parliament.
Azerbaijani lawmaker Novella Cafaroglu said on September 17 that Martirosian arrived in Azerbaijan via Georgia, where he had been since September 4.
It is extremely rare for citizens to defect between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who fought a bloody war two decades ago over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and have remained in conflict ever since.
In March, Azerbaijani officials announced that an ethnic Armenian soldier from Nagorno-Karabakh had crossed over to the Azerbaijani side and asked for political asylum. Nagorno-Karabakh military officials then announced that a soldier had left his post and crossed into Azerbaijani-controlled territory.