After the military operations of September 13-14, the servicemen that were captured and later extradited to Armenia by the Republic of Azerbaijan are being drafted into the army again. They still haven’t gone through a rehabilitation period, haven’t forgotten the pressures they were subjected to, haven’t psychologically returned to normal life, but they have to go to the positions again.
There are 17 of them, who were captured in the battles of September 2022. They have been in Azerbaijan for about a month.
The Ministry of Defense of Armenia is indifferent to the fate of former prisoners of war. To the question of whether it is possible to make legislative changes and demobilize those returning from captivity, Minister of Defense Suren Papikyan answered: “I do not think so”.
This means that the Ministry of Defense does not even think about the problem. Our sources in the military department assure us that, although the 17 former prisoners of war will not be released from the army, none of them have been drafted yet. “None of them is going to the military unit yet. All of them must be examined by the Central Military Medical Commission. And before that, they should go through a rehabilitation period. Without it, no one will be drafted,” our source in the ministry says.
However, it became known to us that at least four of the 17 servicemen who returned from the Azerbaijani captivity were drafted into the army. The condition of one of them worsened dramatically and he was returned to the hospital. By the way, they do not receive rehabilitation treatment.
According to our information, there are specialists in the ministry who consider that the days of strengthening the former prisoners are a necessity, that the service of the persons who have returned from captivity is ineffective, and there is a great danger that they will resort to self-harm. However, the majority who agree with the minister object that if there is a law on not taking prisoners to the army, then the servicemen will flee to the neighboring republic and be taken prisoners intentionally, in order to get rid of the service in the Armenian army.
Could this be an argument for not adopting the law? According to international law specialist Ara Ghazaryan, such cases are possible, but this cannot be an argument for not adopting the law.
“You remember, there was a time when the residents of the border settlements naively crossed the border, then it turned out that they had outstanding loans, they returned, and the private sector, with the intervention of the state, as a manifestation of goodwill, forgave their loans. In any case, I don’t think that there were many such cases, and it is irresponsible to take this as an argument and not accept the law,” says Ara Ghazaryan.
He suggests that if they don’t want to release them from military service, then at least they need to apply certain restrictions to former prisoners of war.
“Let’s say they don’t serve in certain places, they don’t perform combat duty in positions, they serve in a different capacity. But that is why it is necessary to adopt a law. Of course, they can also be released internally, or the medical examination can show that they are unfit or partially fit for service. But a law is still needed: draft it, pass it through the government, take it to the National Assembly. No official will release them from the army without the law. The Constitution says that officials can do only what is defined by the law.”
The need to release former prisoners of war from army service has been discussed since 2020, after the 44-day war. At that time, 3 servicemen who were subjected to physical and mental torture in Azerbaijani captivity contacted the “Journalists for Human Rights” organization and complained that after extradition to the Republic of Armenia and short-term rehabilitative treatment, they were conscripted into the army again.
They said that they are not able to follow the orders of the officers, they have psychological problems, they cannot wear military uniforms, they often have an insatiable desire to escape from the place of duty and go home.
After the uproar in the press and harsh assessments by human rights defenders, in the summer of 2021, on the initiative of the former Minister of Defense of the Republic of Armenia Arshak Karapetyan, the former prisoners of war were again returned to the “Mountain Armenia” sanatorium in Dilijan, and after a short time they went home to be cared for by their families.
At that time, Zhanna Aleksanyan, a human rights activist and the head of the “Journalists for Human Rights” organization, demanded that a law be passed that would clearly prohibit the conscription of former prisoners of war into military service, but the ban was never enacted.
One of them, who has already returned to the homeland, told Forrights.am on the condition of anonymity the details of the days of captivity, which we presented in the publication of November 15.
Our interlocutor said that they were taken to the military police of Azerbaijan, where they were regularly beaten for no reason, and then taken to prison. “You couldn’t sit or lie down in the military police of Baku: you had to stand carefully so that they would look through the door glass and see that you were standing. One could dream about sleeping. If you didn’t stay standing, 6-7 people entered the room and retaliated for breaking the order. Even if we were standing still, they came and beat us every 30 minutes, 6-7 people, quite brutally,” said our interlocutor, who was captured near Jermuk, on the way to the retreat.
Armenian soldiers who were transferred from Azerbaijan to the military police of Armenia were blamed for not blowing themselves up instead of being captured. His parents reported that he has serious psychological problems and fractures. Conscripting such people into the army is equivalent to a new captivity.