Human Rights Watch - Azerbaijan: Armenian Prisoners of War Badly Mistreated

02/12/2020 20:54

Human Rights Watch - Azerbaijan: Armenian Prisoners of War Badly Mistreated


Azerbaijani forces have inhumanely treated numerous ethnic Armenian military troops captured in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Human Rights Watch said today. They subjected these prisoners of war (POWs) to physical abuse and humiliation, in actions that were captured on videos and widely circulated on social media since October.

The videos depict Azerbaijani captors variously slapping, kicking, and prodding Armenian POWs, and compelling them, under obvious duress and with the apparent intent to humiliate, to kiss the Azerbaijani flag, praise Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, swear at Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and declare that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan. In most of the videos, the captors’ faces are visible, suggesting that they did not fear being held accountable.

“There can be no justification for the violent and humiliating treatment of prisoners of war,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Humanitarian law is absolutely clear on the obligation to protect POWs. Azerbaijan’s authorities should ensure that this treatment ends immediately.”

Although some of the prisoners depicted in videos Human Rights Watch reviewed have, in subsequent communications with their families, said they are being treated well, there are serious grounds for concern about their safety and well-being.

International humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict, requires parties to an international armed conflict to treat POWs humanely in all circumstances. The third Geneva Convention protects POWs “particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

The armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated on September 27, 2020, with Azerbaijan’s military offensive. Hostilities ended on November 10 with a Russia-negotiated truce.

While exact numbers are unknown, Armenian officials in Yerevan told Human Rights Watch that Azerbaijan holds “dozens” of Armenian POWs. Armenia is known to hold a number of Azerbaijani POWs and at least three foreign mercenaries. Human Rights Watch is investigating videos alleging abuse of Azerbaijani POWs that have circulated on social media and will report on any findings.

Dozens of videos alleging abuse of Armenian POWs have been posted to social media. Human Rights Watch closely examined 14, and spoke with the families of five POWs whose abuse was depicted. The videos were posted to Telegram channels, including Kolorit 18+ and Karabah_News, and to several Instagram accounts. None of the videos have metadata that could confirm the time and location where they were recorded attached, as it was stripped when the videos were uploaded to Telegram and other platforms. But Human Rights Watch is confident that none of these videos were posted online before October-November 2020.

Human Rights Watch also examined numerous other images and legal documents, and spoke with two lawyers, Artak Zeinalyan and Siranush Sahakyan, who represent the families of close to 40 POWs in requests filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for interim measures (urgent measures to protect people whose cases are pending with the court and who are at “imminent risk of irreparable harm”). The court granted all the requests on behalf of individual POWs to instruct the Azerbaijan government to provide information on the POWs, the lawyers said.

The families confirmed that they saw their loved ones in the videos, provided photographs and other documents establishing their identity, and confirmed that these relatives were serving either in the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, or the Armenian armed forces.

Sergey Martirosyan lost contact with his son, Michael, 21, after an October 17 phone call. On October 25, Sergey saw a video on Telegram depicting eight Armenian soldiers abused by Azerbaijani military. The soldiers lay on the ground, blindfolded and restrained, as their captors kicked, dragged, and stepped on them, and prodded them with a sharp metal rod. At the 1:28 mark, the camera zooms in on a soldier who repeats, moaning, “I will tell everything,” in Russian, as Azerbaijani soldiers kick him at least seven times, step on his head and leg, and prod him.

Sergey said he immediately recognized his son’s voice, physique, hair, and certain facial features. He contacted the ICRC and local authorities. On November 9, after the ECtHR’s intervention, Sergey received a brief phone call from Michael, who said he was being held in Azerbaijan and receiving treatment for leg wounds in a medical facility.

Hranush Shahbazyan lost contact with her husband, Ludvig Mkrtchyan, 51, after an October 13 phone conversation. On November 12, her husband’s brother sent her the same video in which Martirosyan appears. She recognized Mkrtchyan’s voice, bald head, and physique. When the video opens, Mkrtchyan is lying curled up on his side, with his stomach and back partly exposed, and an apparent puncture wound on the left side. During the 00:58–1:25 segment, two Azerbaijani soldiers repeatedly kick and poke him with the metal rod on his head, back, stomach, and legs, as he pleads with them not to hurt him.

According to Shahbazyan, on November 20, after the ECtHR’s intervention, the ICRC informed her that they visited her husband. Shahbazyan showed Human Rights Watch a letter she received that Mkrtchyan had dictated. Shahbazyan said she was reassured of his identity when a few days later he confirmed the pet name for their daughter.

The lawyers said that family members who are their clients had identified three other servicemen depicted in the video: Valery Hayrapetyan, Arman Harutyunyan, and Armen Martirosyan (not related to Michael Martirosyan).

Shirak Sargsyan lost contact with his son, Areg, 19, on October 2. On October 8, a relative alerted the family to two videos that show Areg lying on top of an Azerbaijani tank and then sitting on the same tank and, on his captor’s orders, shouting “Azerbaijan” and calling Pashinyan names.

In mid-October, three more videos with Sargsyan appeared on social media. One shows Sargsyan, apparently on the back seat of a vehicle, wearing a flowery smock and a thick black blindfold, and repeating, on his captors orders, “long live President Aliyev,” and “Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” and cursing Pashinyan. Sargsyan’s family and lawyers also saw him in a news story by the Azerbaijani broadcaster Kanal 1: sitting in a hall, looking disoriented and distressed, he speaks under duress, condemning Pashinyan, including for sending him to war. His voice shakes, his breathing is heavy, and his lower legs are bandaged.

Sargsyan’s family said that on October 17, Azerbaijani authorities facilitated an ICRC visit with him. He was allowed to write a letter to his family twice and to call them briefly on October 17.

On October 18, Azerbaijani media and official sources reported that government officials visited three captured Armenian servicemen, including Sargsyan, in a hospital where they appeared to be getting medical treatment. The servicemen, who were photographed and filmed on video, expressed “gratitude” for their treatment.

On October 22 and 23, at least six videos were circulated on social media showing five captured Armenian soldiers ill-treated and humiliated by Azerbaijani servicemen. In the videos, the Azerbaijani captors, dancing, apparently in celebration of a military victory, slap one of the prisoners on the head, make them kneel, clap, and say “Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” and force at least three of the prisoners to kiss the Azerbaijani flag. Zeinalyan and Sahakyan, the lawyers, said that the prisoners’ relatives contacted them, identifying the five as Eric Khachaturyan, Robert Vardanyan, Narek Sirunyan, Arayik Galstyan, and Karen Manukyan.

Human Rights Watch spoke with family members of Khachaturyan, 18, and Vardanyan, 20.

Khachaturyan’s father, Saribek, lost contact with his son on October 12. Several days later he learned that his son had been wounded. He had no further information until November 22, when a neighbor showed him a video in which he recognized Eric. Later, the family saw him in another four videos. The videos show Eric’s captors holding him by the neck and slapping his head as they attempt to force him to say “Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” to kiss the Azerbaijani flag, and to kneel and clap, together with Vardanyan and another prisoner, as their captors are dancing.

Robert Vardanyan’s mother, Varduhi Parunakyan, said that her last contact with her son was on October 8. Later, she learned that Vardanyan had been wounded and that he, together with Khachaturyan and three others, were captured while awaiting a rescue team.

In the videos, Vardanyan is forced to kiss the Azerbaijani flag after Khachaturyan and another prisoner have done so, kneel on the ground and clap, together with Khachaturyan and another prisoner, as their celebrating captors are dancing; and to say repeatedly “Karabakh is Azerbaijan.” In the “Karabakh is Azerbaijan” video, he is indoors, his face is bruised and dirty, and one of his captors is pressuring him to speak louder; whereas in the “celebration” video he is outdoors and his face is clean and unmarked by bruises.

On November 27, the ECtHR requested information from Azerbaijani authorities regarding the five soldiers’ whereabouts. Azerbaijan has not yet provided a response.

“It is telling that some of the servicemen who carried out these abuses had no qualms about being filmed,” Williamson said. “Whether or not the soldiers thought they would get away with it, it is essential for Azerbaijan to prosecute those responsible for these crimes on the basis of both direct criminal liability and command responsibility.”


In case you have found a mistake in the text, please send a message to the editor by selecting the mistake and pressing Ctrl-Enter.

Newsfeed

20/06/2021 21:17 Voter turnout at Armenia's parliamentary polls reaches 49,4% as of 8pm 20/06/2021 18:21 Voter turnout in snap parliamentary elections in Armenia 38,17% as of 5pm - CEC 20/06/2021 17:30 "I Have the Honor" bloc representative voices about violations in provinces 20/06/2021 17:11 Defeated authorities grasp at any straw – “I Have the Honor” headquarter representative 20/06/2021 16:22 Sputnik V protects against all known coronavirus strains, developer says 20/06/2021 15:13 Voter turnout in snap parliamentary elections in Armenia 26.82% as of 2pm - CEC 20/06/2021 13:52 Armenian Catholicos casts his ballot 20/06/2021 13:44 Armenia’s third president says he voted for secure, sovereign economically developed Armenia 20/06/2021 12:40 "Armenia" bloc member Vahe Hakobyan does not exclude provocations by authorities from despair 20/06/2021 12:22 12,20% of voters cast their ballots by 11am – Armenia CEC 20/06/2021 12:10 Police officers use force, apprehend head of "Armenia" bloc headquarters in Parakar community (video) 20/06/2021 12:03 "I Have the Honor" bloc candidate votes for future of Armenia and Artsakh 20/06/2021 11:51 Police prepare materials on anti-propaganda materials spread in Yerevan streets against "Armenia" bloc 20/06/2021 11:02 Armenia’s second president says he voted for dignified peace and economic rise 20/06/2021 10:29 "Armenia" bloc applies to Police, demands apprehending masterminds, disseminators of materials containing hatred, insult 20/06/2021 09:52 Search conducted in Armenia bloc’s chief headquarter in Sisian 20/06/2021 09:49 Brazil hits 500,000 covid deaths amid 'critical' situation 20/06/2021 09:16 Izmirlyan Medical Center director released 19/06/2021 15:25 Armenia president holds phone conversation with NSS, Police chiefs ahead of snap elections tomorrow 19/06/2021 15:16 Artur Vanetsyan says terror launched from early morning against "I Have the Honor" team, members summoned and taken to Police, NSS, SIS 19/06/2021 14:26 Ebrahim Raisi wins Iran’s presidential election 19/06/2021 12:42 Armenia documents 81 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, 4 deaths recorded 19/06/2021 12:39 Two new cases of coronavirus reported in Artsakh 19/06/2021 12:09 One person dead, 1,500 people evacuated, 300 houses flooded in Crimea due to heavy rains 19/06/2021 11:34 Today is the day of silence in Armenia – no agitation allowed 19/06/2021 11:21 Vote fairly and freely, according to your conscience only: Armenia President 18/06/2021 20:58 Give us opportunity to advance the country in all directions – Robert Kocharyan to supporters 18/06/2021 20:46 Armenia bloc ARF-D member says no transactions to be carried out behind people’s backs 18/06/2021 20:39 Two days remained to our victory – Armenia bloc conducts rally in Republic Square 18/06/2021 20:33 Director of Izmirlyan Medical Center, member of Armenia bloc arrested 18/06/2021 15:54 Russia keeps a close eye on information Turkey may create military base in Azerbaijan 18/06/2021 14:50 Russia records 17,262 new daily COVID-19 cases, the highest number since Feb 1 18/06/2021 14:02 Russia in close contact with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey on Nagorno-Karabakh 18/06/2021 13:05 "Armenia" bloc – 28,7%, Civil Contract 25,2% - Gallup publishes poll results 18/06/2021 12:50 Armenia's foreign policy and diplomacy totally ruined – expert 18/06/2021 12:08 Two new cases of coronavirus reported in Artsakh 18/06/2021 11:38 North Korea should be ready for both dialogue and standoff with US — Kim Jong-un 18/06/2021 11:01 Armenia documents 86 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, one death recorded 18/06/2021 10:46 Delimitation, demarcation issues should not be discussed only from the political and military viewpoints – Armenia Ombudsman 17/06/2021 19:34 People brought to Nikol Pashinyan's rally from provinces by buses 17/06/2021 17:03 Kim Jong-un admits North Korea facing a 'tense' food shortage 17/06/2021 16:16 Diana Ross reveals first album in 15 years, Thank You (video) 17/06/2021 15:22 Russia documents over 14,000 COVID-19 cases in past 24 hours 17/06/2021 14:37 Biden and Putin praise Geneva summit talks but discord remains 17/06/2021 14:06 Botswana diamond could be world's third largest 17/06/2021 13:44 Child, 14, seriously injured as a result of traffic accident with involvement of acting minister’s car in Armenia 17/06/2021 13:33 Magnitude-2.7 earthquake reported in Armenia’s Vayots Dzor 17/06/2021 13:11 China space station: First crew arrives on Shenzhou-12 17/06/2021 12:49 US lost as much as Russia due to sanctions — Putin 17/06/2021 12:10 Number of missing servicemen as of this moment stands at 275 – Acting PM’s aide 17/06/2021 11:49 Relatives of missing servicemen meet Armenia’s acting PM 17/06/2021 11:37 Harutyunyan, Shoygu discuss ways of solution of situation on Armenian-Azerbaijani border 17/06/2021 11:16 Armenia documents 96 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, one death recorded 17/06/2021 11:14 Armenia’s acting PM meets with team members at Government 16/06/2021 17:12 Spanish man jailed for killing and eating his mother 16/06/2021 16:08 US will not change Russia’s position using pressure — senior diplomat 16/06/2021 15:21 Armenia’s second president says serious process to start with Russia 16/06/2021 13:10 Peru: Leftist Castillo wins popular vote in presidential race 16/06/2021 12:11 Global COVID-19 case count down 12% in past week — WHO 16/06/2021 11:45 124 intellectuals voice concern for Armenia's future, urge to consolidate and back "Armenia" bloc 16/06/2021 11:12 Armenia parliament fails to ensure quorum again 16/06/2021 11:09 Armenia documents 99 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, one death recorded 16/06/2021 10:38 Israel strikes in Gaza after arson balloons launched 16/06/2021 10:22 White House gives exact time of Putin-Biden meeting 15/06/2021 17:23 Putin, Biden to discuss almost all issues that concern Russia, US — Kremlin aide 15/06/2021 15:06 Ikea France fined €1m for snooping on staff 15/06/2021 14:05 Robert Kocharyan meets with ex-PM Karapetyan, discusses upcoming programs 15/06/2021 14:00 Robert Kocharyan ready to offer a post to ex-PM Karen Karapetyan 15/06/2021 13:43 Beijing tells Nato to stop hyping up China threat 15/06/2021 11:58 Japanese opposition initiates vote of no confidence against Suga’s cabinet 15/06/2021 11:05 Armenia documents 82 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, one death recorded 15/06/2021 10:36 Armenia parliament fails to ensure quorum 15/06/2021 10:32 Russia ready to consider prisoner swap with US, says Putin 14/06/2021 18:21 Converse4Women - comprehensive support for Converse Bank female borrowers 14/06/2021 17:21 China denounces G7 after statement on Xinjiang and Hong Kong 14/06/2021 16:39 No other team able to give quick and complete solution to the present issues - Kocharyan 14/06/2021 15:34 Naftali Bennett sworn in as Israel’s 13th Prime Minister sworn in as Israel’s 13th Prime Minister 14/06/2021 15:04 Russia registers 13,721 coronavirus cases in 24 hours, says crisis center 14/06/2021 14:08 Many of Nikol team members realize their defeat – Armenia bloc member 14/06/2021 13:30 Russia does not plan to extend easing of requirements for migrants, says source 14/06/2021 13:10 "I Have Honor" bloc member says coalition with "Armenia" bloc realistic 14/06/2021 12:37 Armenia documents 41 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, 4 deaths recorded 14/06/2021 12:29 Incumbent authorities to leave after June 20 - Tigran Abrahamyan 14/06/2021 12:04 Our today’s reality is a minefield through which the country must pass – Armenia ex-PM urges to go to voting, support Kocharyan 12/06/2021 22:14 The USA welcomes release of 15 Armenian prisoners by Azerbaijan and Armenia’s decision to provide Azerbaijan with important information - Blinken 12/06/2021 19:23 Azerbaijan returns 15 Armenian POWs against mine maps of Aghdam 12/06/2021 17:49 Eight bodies found during search operation in Hadrut 12/06/2021 13:51 Army expenses must be added and not cut – Kocharyan to supporters 12/06/2021 12:14 G7: Leaders to unveil global anti-pandemic action plan 12/06/2021 11:52 Putin calls Biden ‘career man,’ hopes there won’t be any impulse-based movements 12/06/2021 11:00 Armenia documents 88 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, one death recorded 12/06/2021 10:32 I am convinced Armenian-Russian interstate relations will continue to develop for the sake of regional stability and security - Pashinyan congratulates Putin on Russia Day 11/06/2021 17:22 Stronger shield and toothpick necessary to drive away people trying to use their “steel tool” against us – Serzh Sargsyan 11/06/2021 16:48 Switzerland announces closing part of its airspace due to Putin-Biden summit 11/06/2021 15:56 Bright Armenia party leader offers to form government of consent and not have opposition for 3-4 years 11/06/2021 15:18 Russia records 12,505 new daily COVID-19 cases, highest since February 22 11/06/2021 13:40 An enclave must be exchanged with an enclave – Armenia acting PM 11/06/2021 13:15 It appeared “velvet revolution” was handing over 75% of Artsakh, recording thousands of victims, missing and captives – Serzh Sargsyan 11/06/2021 12:47 Armenia’s second president promises to turn Governmental summer house into rehabilitation center 11/06/2021 12:14 Armenia’s president visits Russian embassy, meets ambassador