The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, to which Ruben has given so much, has for the past eight years honored and supported the work of those who fight for basic human rights, often at the risk of their own lives, all around the world. The irony is that Ruben now finds himself a victim of the same persecution as those he has sought to help as a human rights defender.

When Ruben moved to Nagorno-Karabakh over a year ago, prior to the 10-month-long blockade of all food and basic necessities and recent bombings, he did so knowing that there were significant risks, but he was determined to help find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Detaining Ruben, a man who has spent the last 20 years dedicated to advancing the socio-economic development of the region, is unjust.  This action deprives him of his basic rights much like the tens of thousands of Armenians of the region whose fundamental human rights are violated daily.

Ruben Vardanyan is being held captive because of his support for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and their right to a democratic way of life. The Azerbaijani government must release him and demonstrate their respect for human rights – his and those of all Armenians of the region.


Fartuun Adan

2020 Aurora Prize Laureate; Founder, Elman Peace and Human Rights Center

Noubar Afeyan

Co-Founder, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative; Founder and CEO, Flagship Pioneering;
Co-Founder and Chairman, Moderna

Jamila Afghani

2022 Aurora Prize Laureate; President, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Afghanistan

Oscar Arias

Honorary Member, Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Two-Time President of Costa Rica;
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Marguerite Barankitse

2016 Aurora Prize Laureate; Founder, Maison Shalom

Tom Catena

Chair, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative; 2017 Aurora Prize Laureate; Medical Director, Mother of Mercy Hospital

Ara Darzi

Chair, Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Co-Director, Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London

Mirza Dinnayi

2019 Aurora Prize Laureate; Co-Founder and Director, Air Bridge Iraq

Shirin Ebadi

Honorary Member, Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Founder, Defenders of Human Rights Center;
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Ilwad Elman

2020 Aurora Prize Laureate; COO, Elman Peace and Human Rights Center

Gareth Evans

Honorary Member, Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Former Foreign Minister of Australia;
President Emeritus, International Crisis Group

Leymah Gbowee

Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Founder and President, Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa;
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Hina Jilani

Honorary Member, Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan;
Former UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders

Dele Olojede

Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Founder, Africa in the World Festival; Pulitzer Prize Winner

Paul Polman

Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Business Leader, Climate and Equalities Campaigner;
Former CEO, Unilever

John Prendergast

Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Human Rights Activist

Louise Richardson

Aurora Prize Selection Committee; President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

Mary Robinson

Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Chair, The Elders; Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights;
Former President of Ireland

Ernesto Zedillo

Aurora Prize Selection Committee; Director, Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University;
Former President of Mexico

Photo: Aurora Co-Founder Ruben Vardanyan and 2016 Aurora Prize Laureate Marguerite Barankitse with kids from the Maison Shalom shelter. Kigali, Rwanda, 2019