LONDON — A new report by Amnesty International, Last to Flee: Older People’s Experience of War Crimes and Displacement in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, documents how older ethnic Armenians were disproportionately subjected to violence in the recent conflict, including war crimes such as extrajudicial executions, as well as torture and other ill-treatment while in Azerbaijani detention.
When active fighting broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) in September 2020, older people in ethnic Armenian communities were almost invariably last to flee their homes, and were disproportionately impacted by violence as a result, Amnesty International says.
During the early stages of the conflict, men aged between 18 and 55 were typically mobilized to fight or to serve the war effort as volunteers. By the time Azerbaijani forces advanced on ethnic Armenian villages and towns, the only people remaining were often older people, and particularly older men.
Many older people encountered obstacles while trying to leave. Physical disabilities and health problems made it difficult for some to flee. In other cases, some older people with psychosocial disabilities or dementia found it difficult to comprehend the necessity or urgency of leaving. Others chose not to leave because they had strong attachments to their homes, or were reluctant to abandon land or livestock.
Older people who fled their homes have languished in displacement in the years since. They reported a lack of access to adequate housing and a loss of livelihoods, which further entrenched feelings of helplessness and isolation. They also suffer due to an extreme lack of mental health or psychosocial support services.
On the ethnic Armenian side, more than half of civilian deaths were among older people. Many interviewees told Amnesty International of extrajudicial executions by Azerbaijani forces. They described killings where victims were beheaded or shot at point-blank range, constituting the war crime of willful killing. Some appeared to have been tortured prior to their deaths, and some corpses were mutilated afterwards.