Azerbaijan has claimed it is investigating footage that appears to show a group of unarmed Armenian soldiers being summarily executed by Azerbaijani troops.
Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of violence.
The video, which appeared online on Sunday, shows at least six unarmed Armenian soldiers who had surrendered, being dragged with their hands raised into the centre of a group of Azerbaijani soldiers. At least three of the Azerbaijani soldiers, who are wearing uniforms similar to those worn by Azerbaijani special forces, then begin shooting. They continue to fire for 20 seconds.
Other Azerbaijani soldiers can be heard shouting for them to cease fire.
On Sunday, Armenia’s Human Rights Defender, Kristine Grigoryan, said they had verified that the video was filmed on 13 September from inside Armenia, during the Azerbaijani attack along Armenia’s border.
‘The fact is confirmed by the study of the terrain, comparison with similar videos available in our and other databases, as well as the complex combination of weather conditions, uniforms of servicemen, conversations of the Azerbaijani servicemen, and other parameters’, Grigoryan said.
‘This is yet another war crime committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces based on the consistent policy of Armenophobia’, she added.
It comes just weeks after footage emerged that appeared to show the mutilation of a female Armenian soldier by Azerbaijani troops during the same fighting. Azerbaijani authorities said at the time they were launching an investigation, however, no arrests have been made.
On Sunday evening, the Azerbaijani Prosecutor’s Office stated that the latest footage was being ‘fully and thoroughly investigated’.
On Sunday the EU special representative to the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, appeared to react harshly to the video. ‘If this video is proven to be authentic then this is a war crime that needs to be investigated and the perpetrators punished’, Klaar wrote on Twitter.
Following backlash from some pro-Azerbaijani government figures, Klaar posted another Tweet stating he had been ‘sent’ videos showing alleged Armenian war crimes. ‘Also these need to be investigated and if authentic perpetrators need to be held responsible’, he said.
It is not clear which footage he was referring to in his follow-up tweet, and there have so far been no reports of Armenian war crimes during the latest fighting. During the 44-day Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, multiple videos appeared online in which soldiers from both sides appeared to have filmed themselves committing war crimes.
Fears of renewed war
The latest footage comes at a time of heightened tension. On 13 September, a brief but deadly war broke out which left around 300 dead on both sides, including four Armenian civilians.
Azerbaijani forces launched attacks along much of the state border, capturing new positions inside Armenia. They claimed to be responding to ‘provocations’ from Armenian saboteurs. The fighting came to an end on 14 September after US pressure on Azerbaijan to halt its attack.
Armenian officials have continued to warn that they fear a new attack is imminent.
The publication of the video came hours before scheduled peace talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Geneva.
In a follow-up statement, the Armenian ministry stated that foreign minister Ararat Mirzoyan ‘emphasised that the war crimes committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces should receive a clear assessment by international bodies, and the criminals should be brought to justice’.
The ministry’s statement also touched upon the opening of transport links in the region, stating that both sides ‘positively assessed a mutual understanding on unblocking of regional transport routes’, which they said would fall under the ‘sovereignty and jurisdiction’ of the countries they passed through.
The footage led to a renewed war of words between the two countries.
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that this and other footage ‘demonstrate the war crimes, extrajudicial killings of Armenian prisoners of war, torture of Armenian servicemen, including women, and desecration of corpses committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces’.
They called on the international community to apply pressure to Azerbaijan ‘for the immediate repatriation of all Armenian prisoners of war and civilians illegally held in Azerbaijan’.
Armenia also stated it would file a new application to the International Court of Justice regarding alleged war crime.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry responded by calling their statement ‘an example of the hypocrisy of a country that has pursued an aggressive policy for decades, trampled on the fundamental rights of nearly a million people, and committed numerous war crimes against military and civilian persons.’
‘We emphasise that, unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan takes its international obligations seriously and claims related to crimes committed during military operations are investigated by relevant state institutions.’
On Monday morning, Armenia also stated that Azerbaijan had reneged on a promise to release 17 Armenian captives by 30 September. They said the promise was made during a 27 September meeting hosted by US national security advisor Jake Sullivan
Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan wrote on Twitter that this was the second time that Azerbaijan ‘refuses to fulfil its promise to release Armenian POWs. The first case was in May, when a promise was made in Brussels, and the second time is now’.
Additional reporting by Ismi Aghayev.