The Journalists for Human Rights NGO summarizes the violations of the rights of 17 servicemen who were captured during the battles of September 13 and returned to Yerevan from Baku on October 4.
The soldiers were in positions with up to 10 people, mostly without a commander
On September 13, after midnight, the Azerbaijani Army launched an attack on the sovereign territory of Armenia in the directions of Gegharkunik, Vayots Dzor and Syunik regions. The 18-20-year-old soldiers fought against the disproportionate power of the enemy until their last bullets. According to the latest official data, the Armenian side has 224 victims, at least 11 of which died in Azerbaijani captivity.
The Journalists for Human Rights NGO has met with families of the victims and servicemen who returned from captivity. In conversations with us, they told us about the problems of uncoordinated military operations, lack of auxiliary forces, command and adequate weaponry. The soldiers were in positions with up to 10 people; they were captured as a result of being surrounded by the enemy.
Family members noted that the retreat order was not given on time. The soldiers did not change their location, as was necessary, and they were targeted by the enemy, because of which they were killed or captured.
“They fought against IAV’s with automatic weapons: fire fell from the sky, they only had automatic weapons, what were they supposed to do with them? … They were exhausted, they did not get any aid. During the day they dug a trench, at night they fought against the enemy,” said the relatives of the fallen servicemen in a conversation with Forrights.am.
The soldiers were treated indifferently by the Ministry of Defense, the Armed Forces and the upper echelons of the government. They have not seen any support. “Help did not come to our direction. Lots of unmanned vehicles were coming from the skies, but we had only automatic weapons. The positions are given away, and the soldiers were given away with them”, said one of the servicemen after returning from captivity.
As a result of the inaction of the Defense Department, some servicemen were also captured in the Jermuk suburbs after the cease-fire announced on September 14. “We were captured four kilometers from the city of Jermuk, on the morning of September 15. The buildings, the windows, everything was visible, it was the forest and Jermuk.”
It’s the easiest thing to die on the way to captivity, but…
There are opinions in war-torn Armenia that every soldier should have one grenade in his pocket, the ring of which should be pulled when it becomes impossible to fight against the enemy and there are no chances to avoid capture. One of the captured soldiers, imagining the physical and psychological pressures he had to go through in a hostile state, tried to take such a step on the way to Baku. But, as he says, he refused to pull the noose at the last moment, because the two soldiers who were captured with him wanted to live. Then he also thought about his feelings of the families of his fellow soldiers.
“The only possible option to avoid being captured was to commit suicide. The situation was such that I was the only one with a weapon; the two people behind me had already put down their weapons on the order of the enemy sniper. Roughly speaking, the lives of the three of us were in my hands. During that time, I managed to think about my family, my relatives… Until the end, I couldn’t decide what I should do. Dying at that moment is much easier than living, because when you decide to live, you don’t know what trials you will go through. We were captured after being under siege for two days. We took part in the war, we caused losses to the enemy, and we were captured on the way to the retreat, when the ceasefire was announced,” said the soldier.
Brutal violence in Baku
During these two months, we met with servicemen who returned from captivity. We are in constant contact with their relatives. They have hard memories of the days spent in Azerbaijan. They tell about the most brutal violence. In separate cases, Armenian soldiers were also beaten in Azerbaijani villages on the road to Baku. “They stopped the car and told the villagers: they are Armenians, take revenge. The Azerbaijanis were hitting us…” said the soldier.
The d”ys spent in the military police of Azerbaijan were hellish. After capturing the Armenian soldiers, the enemy takes them to the military police of Azerbaijan, where they are regularly beaten for no reason, and then taken to prison.
“We were beaten a lot before we were in prison. You could not sit or lie down in the military police of Baku, you had to stand carefully so that when they looked through the glass, they saw that you were standing on your feet. 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.
They even forced the Armenian soldiers to fight with each other, and they severely beat the looser. The Azerbaijanis used to stand on a high place and jump on POW’s backs.
There was no beating in the homeland, but the violence continued
The news about the return from captivity is the most anticipated for everyone, regardless of whether you know the returnee or not. However, after returning to the homeland, a new chain of problems begins for the soldiers. There is no physical violence, but the attitude is unbearable. The soldiers stayed in Yerevan for several days wearing sports clothes given to them in Baku: in the homeland, but with clothes reminding of violence. This is an attitude, a rudimentary attitude, which has been shown by the authorities that declare in their words that they value the citizens.
On the first day of their return from captivity, the soldiers met with their parents only for 10 minutes. After the meeting, the soldiers spent days in the investigative bodies, spent the night in hospitals, were subjected to reprehension for not blowing themselves up so as not to be captured.
“Captivity is presented as an unforgivable sin against the state and the nation. The perception was that it was better to die than to be captured. This is a common point of view in both the Armed Forces and the Military Police. In the military police, they said, “Didn’t you have a grenade to blow yourself up?” I answered, “No, of course we didn’t, the people who should have provided did not provide us [with weapons],” our interlocutor presented the treatment he received after returning to his homeland.
Most of the boys spent a long time in military hospitals. It is a closed space. Although there is a television and food, they were deprived of the opportunity to go out even to breathe fresh air. “Do we look too much like Azerbaijanis?” said one of the doctors, when a soldier’s parent drew attention to the fact that the boys continue to be in prison.
From captivity to positions
A decision was made to send the soldiers back to service, mostly without proper medical examination. They did not undergo rehabilitation treatment at all. Such decisions had serious consequences. One of the soldiers, when taken back to the army shortly after returning from captivity, stayed in the military unit for only four days. He returned to the hospital again with complicated psychological problems. Another soldier was sent from the military unit to his family to be taken care of at home, as his state of health worsened. Nevertheless, there are soldiers who are still in service, although they have been prisoners of the last war and have the listed problems.
The NGO “Journalists for Human Rights”, with the consent of the servicemen, dealt with their individual cases, spoke out about the violations of their rights, and asked questions to the officials. After a long period of work, the Ministry of Defense has taken steps to release the soldiers with problems from service. Despite the fact that Defense Minister Suren Papikyan expressed his opposition to the legislative changes allowing to release from the army those who returned from captivity, as a result of public pressure of by the Journalists for Human Rights NGO, a decision was made to release them from military service.
Some of the 17 servicemen who returned from captivity have been released, others are under family care or in the hospital; however, there is a high probability that they will also be released. It should be stated though that there are soldiers who are still in service albeit the mentioned problems.
It should be noted that, by the efforts we have made to release of these soldiers, we do not encourage the refusal of military service. We simply draw attention to the problems and ensure that the soldiers go to the army without physical and psychological problems.
HRD sees the need for legislative regulations
After the publications of Journalists for Human Rights NGO, human rights defender Zhanna Aleksanyan discussed the issues with Human Rights Defender Kristine Grigoryan. She presented the problems to the RA government, the Ministry of Defense and the Security Council. According to HRD, the problems of those returning from captivity have to be solved by legislative regulations.
“I proposed an institutional approach, not case by case, when some issues will be solved by intervention. I propose an institutional approach, which will not endanger the reputation of the service — there are such concerns– but it will also ensure that people are not victimized three times, four times, and that we can restore and maintain their psychological and physical health. I am discussing this proposal with the Ministry of Defense, I have discussed it with NGOs that deal with these issues. There are soldiers who have been released, who will be released, but we do not consider this a solution to the problem: there should be an institutional approach. For example, it is necessary to establish a rule on what they can do, according to their health condition,” said Kristine Grigoryan.
P.S. It should be noted that all our publications on this topic have been carried out without identifying the soldiers, their places of service and family members, in order not to harm their rights.
Narek Kirakosyan is a journalist, works on the principle of "a person is an absolute value".