Videos of Captives Further Fuel Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict
A video of the capture of an Armenian man who died in Azerbaijani captivity last week is fuelling anger in Armenia over claims that Azerbaijani forces tortured an unarmed Armenian villager to death. As so much in this brutal conflict, it comes with controversy from the other side, too. Footage showing a middle-aged Azerbaijani man in handcuffs being carted off by forces in disputed Nagorno Karabakh is raising hackles in Azerbaijan.
Armenia claims that 31-year-old Karen Petrosian was only a harmless villager who wandered into enemy-territory, while Azerbaijan claims he was an enemy-combatant. Amateur online video shows Petrosian talking to residents of the Azerbaijani border village Agbulaq. One woman from the village, who allegedly first sighted the man, told RFE/RL that Petrosian showed up unarmed and asked for tea.
Additional footage shows the villagers scuffling with Azerbaijani soldiers over Petrosian. RFE/RL reported that the villagers wanted credit for capturing the Armenian.
Later videos, released by the Azerbaijani military, show a frightened Petrosian in a military vest forced to his knees and interrogated by masked Azerbaijani men in military fatigues. Petrosian died on August 8, the day after his capture, from what Baku claims was heart failure.
Yerevan scoffs at Baku's depiction of Petrosian as a professional saboteur — for sartorial reasons, among others. “One never goes to commit an act of sabotage in a sporting uniform [sic] or a hunter’s vest,” observed Armenian defense ministry spokesperson Artsrun Hovhannisian, Tert.am reported. “If that’s how they think about their saboteurs, then I will avail myself of the opportunity to say that our special assignment forces are definitely better dressed.”
Faced with criticism over the treatment of captives like Petrosian, many Azerbaijanis are pointing to alleged atrocities committed by Armenians during the two countries’ 1988-1994 war; especially in 1992, in the Karabakhi village of Khojaly, where Azerbaijan claims that hundreds of ethnic Azeri residents were slaughtered trying to flee the area.
One Azerbaijani citizen, Shahbaz Guliyev, and a Russian national, Dilgham Asgarov, now are held captive in Karabakh as alleged commandos. The de-facto government there and Armenian officials claim that the two were caught in the act; a third man, Hasan Hasanov, supposedly was killed during capture.
“If Armenia is currently demonstrating such a position on releasing the hostages and returning the body, how we can talk about the desire to coexist in the future based on mutual confidence[?]” senior presidential administration official Ali Hasanov asked the ICRC last month. (Baku does not negotiate with representatives of separatist Karabakh.)
Meanwhile, Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian has called for the punishment of both men -- a call likely to pick up popular momentum after the death of Petrosian.
International observers have accused both Armenia and Azerbaijan of the inhumane treatment of captives.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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