Evidence emerges of Azerbaijani executions of Armenian captives
Baku promised to prosecute if the videos are determined to be authentic. But past experience suggests the prosecutions won’t go far.
Video evidence has emerged of Azerbaijani soldiers executing several Armenian soldiers who had been taken captive.
The video was released on Telegram channels on the morning of October 2. It depicted a group of Azerbaijani soldiers shooting a group of unarmed Armenian soldiers. One of the Azerbaijanis in the video is heard shouting “Stop! Don’t shoot!” but the shooting continued.
The video was the latest in a stream of evidence of atrocities committed in the recent fighting. In a video released on September 16, the body of a dead female Armenian service member was stripped and mutilated. Armenian officials said she also had been killed during the mid-September fighting. Other evidence of extrajudicial killings also has emerged: days after Azerbaijani sources released video of their soldiers giving first aid to a captured Armenian soldier, that soldier’s body was handed over to the Armenian side.
Azerbaijan’s general prosecutor announced that it had started a “comprehensive investigation” into the video of the executions to determine whether it was genuine, and if so who were the perpetrators: “As a result of the investigation, legal measures will be taken.”
Given Azerbaijan’s record on prosecuting war crimes, the prospects for such legal measures seem dim. When a series of videos depicting torture of Armenian soldiers emerged shortly after the 2020 war between the two sides, Azerbaijani prosecutors also promised to act, and arrested some suspects. Those prosecutions appear to have foundered, however, and there have not been any convictions. At least one of the soldiers arrested in 2020 was in 2022 awarded a medal “for service to the fatherland.” Armenia has yet to launch any prosecutions for war crimes on its side.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has not commented on the previous war crimes evidence, issued a combative statement calling Armenia’s accusations “hypocrisy” given the latter’s own war crimes in the past.
Later on October 2, another video was released by Caliber.az, a news outlet close to Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense, depicting Armenian soldiers mutilating the bodies of several Azerbaijani soldiers. It was not reported where or when the video was filmed.
The video was likely from the 2020 war, said Edmon Marukyan, a senior Armenian diplomat. “But it has nothing to do with today’s situation,” he told Eurasianet. “Also Armenia’s military never did such atrocities, I mean in comparison with Azeris.”
Since the mid-September fighting, several other videos depicting abuse of soldiers or dead bodies have been released on social media to less attention. Among them: Armenian soldiers filming corpses of Azerbaijani soldiers; at least two videos of Azerbaijani soldiers filming captured Armenian soldiers, and Armenian soldiers digging up and removing the body of an Azerbaijani soldier from a grave.
As of the afternoon of October 3 the execution video was not on most Azerbaijani Telegram channels dealing with the conflict; Marukyan said it appeared that someone from the Azerbaijani side had attempted to remove the video from their Telegram channels before it got out. It did remain on the channel that has the most explicit anti-Armenian content, posted just after midnight on October 2. The caption reads: “Proud fighters of the Azerbaijani army, having captured the enemy’s post, shot all the terrorists. Revenge for the dead brothers knows no mercy! Exclusive footage!” Asked by a user if the video was new, the administrator said that it was. The watermark suggested that it had been posted earlier elsewhere.
Within a couple of hours it had spread to Armenian channels. The first Armenian channel that appears to have posted it did so with the caption: “SPREAD THIS EVERYWHERE.” The Azerbaijani channel then posted several celebratory screenshots of the Armenian channels picking it up.
The video was widely discussed on the social media of both countries. In Azerbaijan, many saw the attention given to the video as evidence of media bias against them, given that Armenians have committed war crimes in the past.
Baku-based analyst Anar Mammadli argued that that reasoning was faulty. “Military personnel should perform combat tasks based on their duty and not on the basis of feelings of revenge and retaliation, ethnic and national hatred,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Meanwhile the foreign ministers of the two countries met in Geneva on October 2, part of the ongoing negotiations to work out a comprehensive agreement resolving the decades-long conflict between the two sides.
Armenia Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan “emphasized that the war crimes committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces should receive a clear assessment by international bodies, and the criminals should be brought to justice,” the ministry said in its readout of the meeting. In a meeting with EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar, Mirzoyan “strongly condemned” the “extrajudicial killings of Armenian prisoners of war.”
In the readout of the meeting from Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, there was no mention of the video or of war crimes.
The release of the videos threatened to scuttle the negotiations, as the Armenian government already has been under intense political pressure not to sign an agreement with Azerbaijan as Baku threatens further military attacks.
Armenia would bring the issue up at the European Court of Human Rights and the International Court of Justice, Hasmik Samvelyan, press secretary of Armenia's representative for international legal affairs, told the news site news.am.
But neither of those courts have the power to prosecute individuals for war crimes, noted international law expert Sheila Paylan in an analysis for the website EVN Report. The one international court that can do so, the International Criminal Court, is not an option for Armenia because the country has not accepted that court’s jurisdiction, Paylan wrote.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
Ani Mejlumyan is a reporter based in Yerevan.
Ulkar Natiqqizi is an Azerbaijani journalist.