The names of some of the captives

Armenian POWs Await End to Their Illegal Imprisonments in Azerbaijan

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By Uzay Bulut

Since Azerbaijan’s 2020 genocidal war against the Armenian Republic of Artsakh/ Nagorno-Karabakh, many Armenian prisoners of war continue to be illegally held and tortured in Azeri jails.

Recently, a prominent human rights lawyer traveled to Armenia and met in the city of Gyumri with families whose children were captured in the aftermath of Azerbaijan’s 2020 war against Artsakh.

She shared her observations with me: “Mothers, with a strength inherent in feminine nature, sat at the forefront. They courageously expressed their pain and longing to reunite with their sons. They emphasized their anguish and frustration over their sons’ illegal and arbitrary detention in Azerbaijan during the past three years. In the case of the fathers, I sensed a feeling of devastation and renunciation. Lost and defeated looks appeared on their faces, edged with an unendurable pain which secretly moved me even more than the mothers’ energetic demands.”

Azerbaijan had launched an aggressive war against the Armenians of Artsakh between 27 September and 9 November 2020. During these 44 days, Azerbaijan’s military forces indiscriminately bombed civilian areas, including homes, hospitals, and schools. Thousands of Armenians were killed; many were tortured and even beheaded.

The war was halted through a Russian-brokered trilateral agreement signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan on November 9, 2020. Many Armenians – civilians and soldiers – were taken hostage by Azeri forces. The ceasefire agreement urged both sides to release prisoners of war. Although Armenia has fulfilled its obligation, Azerbaijan has refused and instead continued kidnapping more Armenians even in the aftermath of the war.

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Shortly after the agreement was reached, on December 11, 2020, Azerbaijani Armed Forces again violated the ceasefire agreement and launched an attack on Artsakh’s Hin Tagher and Khtsaberd towns in the Hadrut region. It is worth noting that these were the only two settlements in the Hadrut region that remained under Armenian control after the 2020 war. The Armenian military was stationed there according to the ceasefire agreement, surrounded by a much larger Azerbaijani military force.

Based on assurances from Azerbaijani military personnel that they would return to Russian peacekeeping forces, 92 Armenian soldiers surrendered to Azerbaijan.

However, only 30 of the Armenian military personnel were returned. The remaining Armenian military personnel from Khtsaberd were taken prisoner and transported to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

Upon arrival in Baku, they were charged with various crimes under Azerbaijan’s Penal code. A common charge involves Article 318, paragraph 2, related to the “illegal crossing of borders or outside a checkpoint by an organized group that might have had used violence as its objective”. In some cases, they are charged under Article 228, paragraph 3, related to the “illegal purchase of weapons, transfer, sale, or accumulation by a group of people, based on repeated frequency basis.”

It is worth clarifying that these prisoners of war are not citizens of Azerbaijan, were not detained in Azerbaijan, and were transported to Azerbaijan for the purpose of facing these charges. These charges are inadmissible and reprehensible from a legal, ethical, and moral perspective.

They contravene the norms of international humanitarian law, violating provisions of the Geneva conventions that make it mandatory to promptly return all prisoners, ensuring their physical integrity and guaranteeing that all detained individuals are repatriated to their homeland promptly. For reference, during the Falklands War, the repatriation of prisoners of war was conducted meticulously, adhering to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

The lawyer noted that “These charges are levied against these prisoners of war through sham trials held in Baku’s Serious Crimes Court. The judges are Afgan Hajiyev, Eldar Ismayilov, Azad Majidov and Faig Ganiyev. Alternatively, these farcical courts, like a court of jesters, are also composed of Telman Huseynov, Ali Mammadov, Javid Huseynov, Samir Aliyev, Zeynal Aghayev, Sabukhi Guseynov, Mirza Khankishiyev and Illham Mahmudov.

“The trials conducted by these judges are illegal and arbitrary. The Armenian military personnel face false accusations where the judges deprive them of their rights as prisoners of war and even refuse to provide them with independent defense lawyers. This is to be expected, as these judges have appalling backgrounds. They have tried and condemned Azerbaijani national political prisoners, many of whom have expressed political dissent and speak against President Ilham Aliyev’s dictatorship. Clearly, these sentenced Azerbaijani nationals have the status of political prisoners.”

Thus it is no surprise that Azerbaijan’s dictatorship routinely violates every norm of international humanitarian law whenever it takes Armenian defense forces and civilians as hostages. While in captivity, some are even tortured; others are murdered.

There has been extreme inconsistency and arbitrariness within these trials. Some prisoners were returned before a judicial decision was even made, while others were sentenced to 6 months in prison. Two prisoners have received 4-year prison sentences, and many others have received 6-year sentences.

“All of this causes extreme anguish and mental torture in the families who know that their sons are deprived of any coherent criteria for imprisonment and prosecution and are exposed to severe torture in Azeri jails,” the lawyer said.

“Another cause of pain for the families is the lack of assistance and support. For example, despite three years of illegal imprisonment, the lack of visibility of such a sensitive issue in the media has created an absence of political motivation from any state – including the government of Armenia – to advocate for the freedom of these young men.”

The names of those held hostage are often absent from public discussions, further hampering efforts for their release. The lawyer shared their names with me.

The following Armenian prisoners of war were sentenced to six months in prison: Gevorg Norairovich Asetryan, Volodiya Vachagani Hakobyan, Mkrtich Simonovich Minosyan, Yuri Tigranovic Karapetyan, Romik Misakini Sedrakyan, Edgar Vachaganovich Matesyan, Albert Kamoyevich Petrosyan, Gor Vagramini Gasparyan, Aram Garnikovich Minasyan, Kamo Karenovich Sefilyan, Armen Yegizari Bagasyan and Sisak Grishai Yengoyan.

All were repatriated after their false sentences were completed. The following Armenians have been sentenced to 4 years in prison: Gegham Samveli Serobyan and Hrach/Grach Arzumani (Arzumanovic) Avagyan/Avakyan. Both remain incarcerated, and I had the opportunity to interview their mothers in Armenia.

The Armenians below have been sentenced to six years in prison: Varazadt Amushavanovich Manukyan, Martin Musheqovich Agramanyan, Jora Vanoevich Manukyan, Ashot Artakovich Gevorkyan, Grigor Gagigovich Kuregyan, Haykaz Koryuni (Koryunovich) Hovhannisyan/Hovanesyan, Davit Stepani (Stepanovich) Stepanyan, Levon Ashoti (Ashotovich) Tosunyan, Artur Eduardi (Eduardovich) Baghdasaryan, Hrayr Hrachyayi (Hrachovich) Herbayan, Varazdat Seryozhayi (Seryojevich) Harutyunyan/Arutyunyan, Serob Sureni (Surenovich) Avagyan/Avakyan, Narek Aghasu (Aqaovich) Kostanyan, Setrak Samvelovich Soghomonyan, Rafik Robertovich Karapetyan, Feliks Arshakovich Grigoryan, Mels Karapetovich Ambardanyan, Gurgen Hovannesovich Golayan, Vagarshak Merojanovich Maloyan, Arman Vazgeni (Vazgenovich) Dilanyan, Andranik Vazgeni Mikayelyan, Manuk Hovhannesi (Hovanesovich) Martoyan, Arsen Arayiki (Araikovich) Vardanyan, Hrayr Vardeni (Seryojevichin) Tadevosyan, Vahagn Ediki (Edikovich) Bahrikyan, Sasun Seyrani (Seyranovich) Yeghiazaryan, Ovsep Robertovich Manukyan, Robert Hoviki (Ovikovich) Gevorgyan, Karen Armenaki (Armenovich) Aramyan, Andranik Srapi (Srapovich) Sukisyan, Eduard Armeni (Armenovich) Kirakosyan/Giragusyan, Gevorg Samveli (Samvelovich) Martirosyan, Volodya Vachagani (Gagikovich) Hakobyan/Akopyan, Tigran Manuki (Manukovich) Avagyan/Avakyan, Grigor Seyrani (Seyranovich) Saghatelyan and Vagharshak Ashoti Avetisyan.

It should be noted that 12 of those listed above were repatriated, adding yet another layer of illegality to the criteria adopted for their treatment by Azerbaijan.

For the past 3 years, families have eagerly waited for the return of their loved ones. Since there is no justice for these imprisoned Armenians, it is vital to support their families in this painful process by letting them know that their sons are neither forgotten nor abandoned. The plight of these Armenian young men and their families should be constantly brought to light so that policies at the highest levels of international political arenas can put an end to Azerbaijan’s criminal and reprehensible actions.

(Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara. She is a research fellow of the Philos Project.)

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