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Nineteen Armenians ‘killed in Azerbaijani captivity’

4 May 2021
Photo via Armenpress.

Lawyers representing a group of Armenian prisoners of war and other captives have claimed that 19 of them have been killed while in Azerbaijani captivity.  

In a press release on Monday, the lawyers said that 12 of the captives were civilians and seven were service members. 

The statement comes as Azerbaijan faces increasing international pressure over the captives held following the end of the war.

On Tuesday evening, three more Armenians were returned to Armenia, bringing the total number released to 67.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have disputed the number of people being held by Azerbaijan.

The European Court of Human Rights has applied interim measures on Azerbaijan ordering them to protect the rights of 188 people allegedly being held captive.

Before Tuesday’s release, Azerbaijan only acknowledged that they were holding 72 people captive, which they said were taken prisoner after the 9 November agreement in clashes near Hadrut. They have insisted that these are not prisoners of war and should be tried as ‘terrorists’.

Artak Zeynalyan, one of the lawyers representing the Armenian captives’ families in the European Court of Human Rights, published the names of the 19 people who they have concluded had died, including four women. 

‘We have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over the facts of torture and killing of POWs and detained persons’, Zeynalyan said.

Zeynalyan added that most of the people on the list were not among the captives that Azerbaijan has acknowledged holding.

The ECHR has called on Azerbaijan to ‘provide specific information’ on those they are holding captive ‘including the conditions of their detention, any medical examinations they have undergone and details of the measures that have been taken or are planned to be taken to repatriate them.’

The court has also noted the Azerbaijani Government’s ‘failure to respect the time-limits set by the Court for the submission of information on the individuals concerned and the rather general and limited information provided by them’.

On 4 May, 122 Members of the European Parliament signed a letter to EU Council President Charles Michel and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urging them to demand the release of ‘over 200 Armenian POWs’. 

‘Physical abuse and humiliation’

Evidence that some of the captives named in Monday’s statement were killed in Azerbaijani custody had previously emerged.

In late April, the remains of 18-year-old Erik Mkhitaryan were identified.  Footage of Mkhitaryan alive in Azerbaijani custody had previously been shared online.

In late December, the remains of Eduard Shahgeldyan, 79, were returned to Yerevan. According to Human Rights Watch, Shahgeldyan was taken captive along with his wife in October.

Arsen Gharakhanyan, 43, along with his father, Alexander Gharakhanyan, 70, was taken prisoner near Hadrut during the war. While Alexander was returned to Armenia along with the first group of captives to be released, his son’s remains were later found in a search operation.

Evidence including witness testimony and video footage of the mistreatment of captives have emerged both during and after the war.

On 2 December, Human Rights Watch said that Azerbaijani forces had ‘inhumanely treated numerous ethnic Armenian military troops captured in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh’

‘They subjected these prisoners of war (POWs) to physical abuse and humiliation, in actions that were captured on videos and widely circulated on social media since October’, the group said in a statement.

In late April, several repatriated prisoners told VICE that they had been mistreated and tortured while in captivity.

So far, 67 Armenian captives have been repatriated to Armenia through the mediation of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

On 9 April, a plane reportedly carrying Armenian captives landed in Yerevan empty, bringing the issue once again to the fore. 

Several international organisations including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Union have called for the release of Armenian prisoners of war and civilian captives.

Around 4,000 Armenian service members died during the 44-day war over Nagorno-Karabakh, with around 320 still missing. Azerbaijan has reported around 2,900 service members killed and 28 missing. Almost 200 civilians were also killed in the fighting.

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