The second of two Azerbaijani soldiers who entered Armenia last week after allegedly getting lost has been captured. A video shared on social media shows the soldier stating that he ‘shed Armenian blood’, while another shows him being beaten by Armenians after capture.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry announced that two Azerbaijani soldiers, Agshin Babirov (born in 2004) and Huseyn Akhundov (born in 2003) got lost due to poor visibility and poor weather from the border area between Nakhchivan and Armenia ‘a few days’ before 10 April.
According to independent Azerbaijani outlet Meydan TV however, the uncle of one of the soldiers claimed they went missing on 5 April.
The first soldier, Agshin Babirov, was found and detained on 10 April by residents of the village of Ashotavan, in Syunik Province. Huseyn Akhundov was found on Thursday near the village of Achanan, around a 90 kilometre walk from Ashotavan and 40 kilometres from the border with Nakhchivan.
Rumours that the soldier was responsible for the murder of a 56-year-old security guard at the Kajaran copper-molybdenum mine in Syunik on Wednesday started circulating online shortly after his capture.
People from the village where the soldier was captured and the head of the Kajaran community, Manvel Paramazyan, told RFE/RL that the murdered guard’s phone was found on the Azerbaijani soldier.
According to Paramazyan, the guard had received seven gunshot wounds.
However, Armenian law enforcement agencies have stated that while investigation of the murder is underway, they have no information yet suggesting that the Azerbaijani soldier was connected to the incident.
Both Azerbaijani soldiers are being held at the police department in Kapan, Syunik.
‘Shedding blood’, and a beating
Shortly after the second soldier’s capture on Thursday morning, two videos spread widely online. The first allegedly showed Akhundov live-streaming from Syunik.
‘By God, we have arrived in Armenia’, says Akhundov in the video. ‘We have spilled the blood of Armenians […] If we die, you should know that we are not traitors to the country.’
Azerbaijani pro-government media claimed the video was old, from before the soldiers became lost.
The second shows the soldier on the ground, tied up and being kicked in the face. Images of the soldier around the time of his detention also showed him with blood and bruises on his face, with some shared on Azerbaijani social media appearing to show his captors holding knives while he lies tied on the ground.
Footage of the soldier’s mistreatment sparked discussion in Yerevan and Baku.
Diplomatic missions in Baku immediately condemned the incident, with the US Embassy in Baku stating that it was ‘disturbed by a video appearing to depict violence against an Azerbaijani soldier in Armenia’ and urging Azerbaijan and Armenia to resolve outstanding issues through peaceful negotiations.
The British Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Fergus Auld, added that ‘such treatment is unacceptable under international humanitarian law [and] must be condemned’.
A number of Armenian civil society activists also condemned the soldier’s mistreatment.
‘While it's important to hold those responsible for the infiltration and murder accountable, it's equally important to recognise that violence toward prisoners is never justified. The mistreatment of the captured Azerbaijani soldier by locals must be addressed’, Andranik Shirinyan, project coordinator for Freedom House in Armenia, wrote on Twitter.
Some Armenians who condemned the violence argued that forbidding such treatment of Azerbaijani military personnel would allow Armenia to demand that Armenian prisoners of war be treated humanely.
Since the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in November 2020, an unconfirmed number of Armenian soldiers captured in Nagorno-Karabakh have been held in Baku. Azerbaijan acknowledges the capture of at least 30 prisoners, but has not confirmed the exact number, or how many remain alive.
On Thursday, Azerbaijan’s State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons appealed to international organisations to ensure the soldiers’ release.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry called the footage an example of violence on ethnic grounds by Armenia, and called for ‘relevant international organisations’ to investigate and evaluate the violence, ‘including the violence committed by Armenia against Azerbaijani prisoners of war and civilian prisoners, and 3,890 missing Azerbaijanis over the past 30 years’.
Soldiers ‘fleeing’ the army
Breaking a three-day silence from Armenia’s government and law enforcement agencies regarding the Azerbaijani soldiers’ capture, Prime Minister Pashinyan claimed on Wednesday that the first soldier said that they had fled the army.
‘A soldier of the Azerbaijani army simply ran away from their positions with his comrade due to pressure and humiliation from other comrades’ Pashinyan said during a meeting in parliament.
Pashinyan also stated that the second soldier, who was then still being searched for by law enforcement agencies, had decided to return to Azerbaijan.
The Prime Minister added that an investigation was needed to discover how the soldiers were able to cross the border.
He added that the captured serviceman had ‘not yet expressed his desire to return to Azerbaijan. When he tells us [that he does], the issue will be discussed’.
This article was amended on 19 April 2023 to correct the names of the soldiers. The original article identified Akhundov as the first soldier to be detained and Babirov the second, when the reverse was correct.