BY JASMINE SEYMOUR
Special to Asbarez
After four-months of captivity in Azerbaijan, Lebanese-Armenian Maral Najarian was released Wednesday. At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday local time, she boarded a flight from Baku to Istanbul, from where she departed for Beirut.
She is reportedly back home surrounded by family, friends and community well-wishers.
“I received a phone call this morning, when I was at hospital, and I dropped my equipment after hearing the news of Maral’s release,” said Najarian’s sister, Sossi, who is a nurse at a local Beirut hospital. “I told them I am taking the day off, and dashed home.”
“I cannot describe what we are feeling right now. We can’t wait to greet her at the airport,” added Sossi Najarian, who explained that they had been told by the International Committee for the Red Cross to keep the news confidential until her safe return.
March 10 marks a symbolic and heart-breaking milestone for Armenians since it will months since the signing of the that agreement that ended the military aggression in Artsakh.
On the same day, civilians Maral Najarian and Vicken Euljekjian, traveling from Yerevan to Shushi via Berdzor were captured by Azerbaijani forces. Both, originally from Lebanon, but holding Armenian citizenship, were on their way from Yerevan to Arstakh in Vicken’s car, to collect Maral’s luggage from her hotel in Berdzor, and Vicken’s luggage from his flat in Shushi before the handover. Regrettably, they were captured in their vehicle, between Berdzor and Shushi by Azerbaijani forces before the Russian peacekeepers arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Two weeks later, messages started pouring from Azerbaijan – some true but mostly fake – yet it became clear that Maral and Vicken were transferred to a prison in Azerbaijan. Maral’s family, and her elderly mother, in particular, were tormented day and night by shocking messages about Maral posted by the Azerbaijanis on her Facebook page, including that she was raped and killed.
“Maral is the nicest, kindest person I have ever come across,” said her neighbor Anahit Tarkhanian in Beirut. “She was so popular in the community here, the waiting list for her beauty salon was so long, as everyone – men and women – wanted to be served by Maral. Everybody loved her and regretted she decided to settle in Armenia. Unlike typical hairdressers, Maral is rather quiet and reserved, does not chat with clients, but is extremely skillful in her job. She is beautiful inside and out.”
After the family moved to the newly-built Fanar district in Beirut, Maral converted the small garden into business space soon managing one of the most popular salons in the neighborhood. However, as the financial crisis in Lebanon persisted, clients had difficulties to pay, and Maral would often serve her clients for free. The beauty salon was damaged during the August 4 explosion in Beirut, and Maral opted to return to Armenia to settle down for good, and later bring her grown children. Arriving to Armenia on August 25 with her sister Annie, they barely had any time to settle, when the Artsakh war started.
Following the government effort to resettle families in Artsakh, Maral and Annie arrived to Shushi around mid-September together with a dozen of Armenian-Lebanese families. Soon the sisters realized the high altitude of the historic citadel was not suitable, so they moved to Berdzor (Lachin) on September 26, a day before the war.
As Maral was unlawfully imprisoned near Baku, her extended family in Beirut and Yerevan, have been campaigning for her release. Maral is one of seven siblings, born in Beirut to tight-knit Armenian family, which endured its own struggles through the political turmoil in Lebanon and the recent economic crisis. The older sister Sossi Najarian, a long-time nurse in a local hospital has been campaigning for her release in Beirut, while her younger, more proactive sister Annie in Yerevan has been knocking at every official’s door and dealing with the local and international media.
Maral’s case soon spread across Armenian diaspora, where organizations and individuals were demanding her release, as her photogenic face promoted the crisis of Armenian POWs.
Four months since the November 9 agreement, more than 230 Armenian POWs are still being held by Azerbaijan. Unlike the Azerbaijani authorities, the Armenian side has adopted a constructive approach, by returning all Azerbaijani prisoners of war held in Armenia. Nonetheless, Azerbaijani forces continue to kidnap Armenian soldiers and civilians, both men and women, in post-war Karabakh.
Lebanese Armenian, Vicken Euljekjian, who was driving with Maral from Yerevan to Artsakh on November 10, still remains in captivity in Baku. His only crime was to have decided to collect his belongings from his Shushi home before the handover, when the pair were captured near Shushi.
Among the newly captured 64 soldiers in December, only eight have been returned, while six soldiers, lost in forests in Nagorno-Karabakh waiting to be rescued for 50 days, were captured, and brutally murdered by the Azerbaijani forces in January. Evidence of the reprehensible maltreatment of Armenian POWs and captives have been catalogued in the latest report by Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan.
While world leaders continue to remain “impartial” over the recent Artsakh War, Azerbaijani war crimes and violations of international human rights agreements is impossible to ignore by the free world and organizations safeguarding human rights and universal values.