The Baku Military Court has sentenced Vagif Khachatryan, an ethnic Armenian from Nagorno-Karabakh, to 15 years in prison for war crimes committed during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.
Khachatryan was accused of taking part in a massacre of Azerbaijani civilians in the village of Meshali, near Khojali, charges he denied.
A 1992 report by the Russian human rights group, Memorial, cited ‘severe violence against the civilian population’ in Meshali by ethnic Armenian forces on 22 December 1991. According to the Azerbaijani Prosecutor’s Office, 25 Azerbaijanis were killed, 14 injured, and 358 displaced during the events in Meshali.
Khachatryan, 68, was arrested at Azerbaijan’s Lachin checkpoint between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia in July, before Azerbaijan took control of the region. He was being evacuated through the Azerbaijani blockade of the region by the Red Cross for heart surgery in Yerevan.
He was charged with genocide and deportation or forced transfer of a population and had faced 14 to 20 years or life imprisonment. However, prosecutors requested he be given 15 years.
In his closing statement before judgment was passed, Khachaturyan said that while the massacre at Meshali had taken place, he had not taken part in it.
‘I am a man who believes in God. May God punish those who committed that crime’, Khachaturyan said, adding that while the perpetrators remained at large, it was him ‘standing before the court’
He has maintained throughout the trial that he worked as a driver at the time of the massacre, and was in the nearby village of Badara, where he lived, when it took place.
Armenian authorities have repeatedly criticised Khachaturyan’s prosecution. Following the verdict, Armenia’s Human Rights Defender condemned the trial as not ‘observing the international legal standards and guarantees related to human rights’. They called on international rights groups to ‘respond immediately’.