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Western countries express horror at Azerbaijan POW execution video

4 October 2022
A still from the video released on 2 October appearing to show the execution of Armenian prisoners.

Several Western countries have reacted with apparent horror at footage appearing to show the summary execution of Armenian prisoners of war.

Footage shared on social media on Sunday appeared to show several Azerbaijani soldiers shooting dead six unarmed Armenian soldiers. Armenia has said the footage was taken on 13 September.

[Read more: Azerbaijan ‘investigating’ new POW execution footage

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price wrote that the United States was ‘disturbed by recent reports of Azerbaijani soldiers executing unarmed Armenian prisoners.’ 

‘We call for a full and impartial investigation. Those responsible for any atrocities must be held to account.’

Senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, also spoke out on the committee’s official Twitter account.

‘I condemn the reported execution and probable war crimes committed against unarmed Armenians by Azerbaijani soldiers’, he said. ‘We must pursue justice for every atrocity committed during the recent Azerbaijani attack on Armenia’, he wrote.

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In a somewhat uncommon criticism of the Azerbaijani authorities, the British Embassy in Azerbaijan also said they were ‘horrified’, by the footage. 

‘The British Embassy is horrified by a video which appears to show captured Armenian soldiers being shot by Azerbaijani forces. We welcome the announcement by the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office of their commitment to comprehensively investigate the video.  We expect the outcome of the investigations to be made public. We expect all allegations of mistreatment, abuse and summary killings to be fully investigated by the appropriate authorities’, their statement read.

The French embassy to Azerbaijan said ‘the videos of the Azerbaijani military executions of Armenian prisoners are deeply shocking.’

They also demanded the release of all remaining Armenian prisoners.

The spokesperson for the EU’s External Action Service, Peter Stano, called for an immediate investigation. He said the ‘horrendous videos’, showed ‘apparently Azerbaijani soldiers executing Armenian prisoners of war’.

‘Such crimes have to be clearly condemned’, he added.

Other countries have been less critical. Russia, Armenia’s traditional ally, did not criticise Azerbaijan specifically.

Commenting on the issue, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, called on ‘the authorities of Azerbaijan and Armenia to immediately conduct a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of these videos, including for signs of war crimes.’ 

‘If the facts are confirmed, all the culprits should be brought to justice to the full extent of the law’, Kommersant quoted her as saying.

Turkey and Israel, which have unequivocally supported Azerbaijan during and after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, did not comment on the footage. On the contrary, on 3 October, Israel’s Defence Minister paid an official visit to Baku, while the Turkish Defence Minister came to Azerbaijan the following day.

Reaction inside Azerbaijan

The Azerbaijani Prosecutor’s Office has promised to thoroughly investigate the latest footage. 

However, both they and the Foreign Ministry also accused Armenia of attempting to ‘mislead the international community and hide its responsibility by spreading baseless claims.’

There was widespread condemnation and calls for an impartial investigation into the footage among Azerbaijani public figures, journalists, and opposition politicians. Some, however, also echoed the Azerbaijani Government’s complaint that similar attention was not given to past crimes committed by the Armenian side.

Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, for example, said that there was ‘no excuse’ for war crimes on either side, and that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

However, she complained that there were no such calls for investigations in Armenia for past Armenian crimes.

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. In the First Nagorno-Karabakh War there was also widespread evidence of war crimes, including the Khojaly massacre of hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians as well as the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani civilians from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding districts, points often raised by Azerbaijanis.

Azerbaijani peace activist and former political prisoner Giyas Ibrahim criticised such responses to the footage. 

‘What happened in the video is an unequivocal crime. Aliyev knows very well that the day the war and the conflict ends, his power will also end. Therefore, he will fuel the hatred and the conflict’, he wrote on Facebook. 

He said that local activists who refused to unequivocally condemn the footage, and either attempted to question its authenticity or to accuse Armenians of similar crimes were ‘avoiding reality in every sense of the word’.

In this way, he accused them of implicitly supporting the Azerbaijani Government and President Ilham Aliyev.

‘The Azerbaijani army has already become a criminal tool used by Aliyev to maintain his slavery regime’, he said.