The tortured and wounded former prisoner of war was taken to the army: “Whoever survives, let him tell my family that I am dying”

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The harsh treatment of prisoners of war is continued by the Ministry of Defense of Armenia. During the 44-day war, the captured soldiers, who went through the war and then the horrors of the Azeri captivity, were re-drafted into the army after a short period of rehabilitation treatment.

To date, 69 prisoners have been returned to Armenia from Azerbaijan. According to the Ministry of Defense, three of them were drafted. The rest were declared unfit for military service.

We have the impression from the conversation with the officials of the Ministry that they understand that taking the soldiers who returned from captivity, who have passed through the 7 circles of hell, to the army again is an inhuman act, that they all have problems – psychological and physical. However, officials claim that the Ministry of Defense can do nothing. There is no law in Armenia that prohibits the service of former prisoners of war in the army.

“If a person has returned from captivity, the examination has determined that he should serve, there is no reason to release that person,” said Alexander Avetisyan, head of the Ministry of Defense’s General Department for Health and Veterans Affairs. To the question whether the Ministry cannot make an operative change to the law and present it, he answered:

“Why should the Ministry of Defense submit it and not, say, the Ministry of Health? Or, on what grounds shall the POWs be released

to sleep. He does not speak. He smokes 4 packs of cigarettes at night. I was calling his friends to come and talk to him, so that he does not remain silent. He says, ‘Well, why did I live? Who did I live for?'” says H., describing her son’s post-captivity state.

S. has been in military service since July 12, 2020. He was in Jabrayil military unit, was on the front line from the first day of the war, September 27. He was wounded on October 15 and taken prisoner five days later. About two months later, on December 14, he returned from captivity, and on March 31, he was transferred from the hospital back to service. He is unable to put on his shoes. Serves in slippers. He is not able to tie the military belt, because he has a wound in that area.

He has a psychological barrier in contact with the command staff. After seeing the officer run away from the front line in front of his eyes, telling the boys that he would return soon and leaving them alone, the attitude towards the senior command changed 180 degrees. He cannot obey the officers. He cannot wear a uniform.

Armenian captives were tortured on a daily basis in Azerbaijan. “There were special hours of electric shock. He says that as soon as they, the POWs, heard the crackle of the door, they knew that their end had come,” says the soldier’s mother.

S. had changed so much that, when he returned, his mother did not recognize him immediately.

“When the captives were returned, they were first taken to Kanaz Hospital. I went, standing in front of those captive children. I asked, guys, where is S.? At that moment, my child approached, wounded, barely walking, and I did not know that it was my child, I did not recognize him.”

Indifference towards POWs continued at the Central Hospital. They were not even given a bath before bringing them in front of their parents, they were not given new clothes. They met with their families in clothes they were in captivity, dirty and stinking.

From there, the boys were taken to the “Mountainous Armenia” sanatorium in Dilijan. The staff of the Central Hospital worked with the former prisoners of war there.

The young man had a conflict with the hospital doctor Tunyan. The latter demanded from S. to take off his hat. The young man did not obey. S.’s condition has deteriorated in Dilijan. On March 31, he was unexpectedly taken to Yerevan, to a hospital, and, from there, without informing his parents, three prisoners of war, S., H. and N., were interrupted in rehabilitation treatment and taken to the place of service. They were asked if they wanted to continue their service in Artsakh. “As if they were mocking them,” says the mother of the former prisoner of war.

H. has 7 children, two of whom are young kids. She lives in Khot village of Syunik, in a dilapidated hut, which does not even have most essential communal facilities. Her husband is disabled. The family’s livelihood is the spouse’s disability pension.

The 500,000 drams  a little less than $1,000] provided as social assistance to the wounded servicemen after the unleashed hostilities against Artsakh was given to the family with great complications and difficulty.

“We were told to take the history of his illness from Azerbaijan so that he could receive the money. I called the Red Cross and they said, ‘We have made so much effort to bring him back, we have succeeded in returning him. And now, they want documents from the enemy?’ The Red Cross, when visiting the POWs in Azerbaijan, secretly took Betadine with them to treat the boys’ wounds. Azerbaijan lied to the Red Cross saying that the boys had been treated medically and that the wounds had been sutured, but this boy had been beaten so badly that he could not even move his fingers. The bones of his fingers were completely crushed,” H. tells.

The state provides an additional 500,000 to those receiving psychological treatment, which was not given to S., citing the fact that he has already received social assistance.

P.S. Before publishing the article, we also applied to the head of the Human Rights and Ethics Center of the Ministry of Defense, Gevorg Martirosyan. He promised to provide clarifications later.

Syuzan Simonyan