Parents of Armenian prisoners of war have rallied outside of the government building in Yerevan after the publication of an edited video of Parliamentary speaker Alen Simonyan saying that Armenian POWs held by Azerbaijan ‘no longer exist' for him. He also alleged that the soldiers were captured after abandoning their posts.
The parents and relatives of the prisoners and missing soldiers held a rally on the evening of 7 December — the same day the initial video was published — demanding that Simonyan meet them and justify his statements.
The rally continued on the morning of 8 December.
Opposition members of parliament belonging to the Armenia Alliance went out to meet with the parents, with MP Aspram Krpeyan telling them that the Armenia Alliance has asked the ruling party whether ‘what Simonyan said is the point of view of their political faction or Simonyan's personal opinion’.
‘We do not have an answer so far,’ Krpeyan said.
During the rally, one of the parents said they agree to have their sons ‘judged with the strictest laws’ if they appear to be ‘traitors’.
‘If I know that my son has betrayed [Armenia], or revealed a state secret to a Turk, I will not accept such a child’, they said. ‘But our sons went to war for the sake of the homeland, didn't they?’
In the edited video, Alen Simonyan can be heard saying that the parents of the service members also know that ‘their sons are deserters’ and that’s the reason why they’re ‘not active’.
The full video of Simonyan’s comments, which was published online on Tuesday, showed the parliamentary speaker bemoaning the use of POWs as ‘leverage’ by Azerbaijan to obtain concessions from Armenia — specifically a ‘corridor’ connecting the exclave of Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan’s western regions.
‘The purpose of sending those soldiers to the front lines is to protect the country. If I have to give away my country to get them back, then what is the whole point?’, Simonyan said in the video. He also accused the soldiers captured during the 16 November clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan of being deserters who ‘laid down their weapons’ and were captured ‘while fleeing.’
He also appeared to say that the Pashinyan administration’s recent dismissive comments about the soldiers in Azerbaijani captivity were intended to be ‘hints’ to the Azerbaijani government that ‘they cannot threaten the whole country with the POWs’.
‘Obviously, we're still going to bring them back, that's not debatable’, he said. ‘Azerbaijan has to return POWs one way or another.’
On 7 December, Alen Simonyan told reporters that those who filmed the conversation introduced themselves as ‘supporters’, and that he did not want his claims to be made public.
The following day, Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan and lawyers Siranush Sahakyan and Artak Zeynalyan who represent the interests of the Armenian captives in the European Court of Human Rights issued a joint statement, condemning the leak.
They also called on Armenian officials to refrain ‘from making public speeches on such sensitive issues’, and not to use the POWs for ‘political purposes’, as this can ‘harm the rights of Armenian prisoners.’
Following the leak of the video, Vahan Hovhanniyan, a lawyer who worked with repatriated POWs published excerpts of pre-trial testimonies recorded by the POWs after their release. In the transcripts, the soldiers state that they chose not to fight and that over 60 Armenian soldiers surrendered to under a dozen Azerbaijani soldiers.
The testimonies were given by soldiers who had been captured during a December 2020 skirmish in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Adviser to the Prosecutor General Gor Abrahamyan condemned the publication of the testimony excerpts as ‘morally and legally unacceptable’.
At least 45 Armenian POWs have been held by Azerbaijan since last year, and an estimated three dozen soldiers were taken captive in the November 16 clashes. Ten of them were recently returned in an exchange for landmine maps.
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.