Five of 10 prisoners of war formerly held by Azerbaijan have been charged with ‘violating the rules of duty’. Armenia’s Investigative Committee has submitted a motion to have them arrested.
A court has already granted permission for the arrest of one soldier, while a motion to have another soldier arrested has been rejected.
Neither the Investigative Committee nor the soldiers’ legal team has made public any specifics of the case.
The former POWs were reportedly taken captive during clashes on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on 16 November, when, according to unverified sources, around three dozen Armenian service members were taken captive.
A day after the clashes Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan cast doubt on the circumstances around the soldiers’ capture stating that the government ‘does not understand’ how they ended up in captivity.
‘Every person serving in the Armed Forces has responsibilities’, Pashinyan said, ‘It must be clearly examined in all cases, what it means to be taken prisoner, and under what circumstances’.
On 7 December, a video was leaked in which Armenia’s Speaker of the Parliament Alen Simonyan denounced ‘deserters’ and that Armenian POWs ‘no longer exist’ for him.
The video sparked outrage among the relatives of POWs and missing soldiers, who then organised a rally outside of the government building in Yerevan, demanding a meeting and explanation from Simonyan. Simonyan met with the relatives on the evening of 8 December, details of the meeting have not been made public.
After the video leak, Vahan Hovhanniyan, a lawyer who worked with a different group of repatriated POWs — who were captured in Nagorno-Karabakh in December 2020 — published excerpts of testimonies given by the soldiers upon their return to Armenia.
According to the transcripts, the soldiers stated that they chose not to fight and that over 60 Armenian soldiers surrendered to under a dozen Azerbaijani soldiers.
At least 45 Armenian POWs have been held by Azerbaijan since last year.
According to a Human Rights Watch report published in March, Armenian POWs in Azerbaijani custody have been subject to cruel and degrading treatment and torture. According to other reports, a number of POWs appeared to have been victims of extrajudicial executions.