62 Armenian citizens in Azerbaijan: prisoners of war or saboteurs?
In Khojavend region, which came under the control of Azerbaijan as a result of the second Karabakh war, 62 citizens of Armenia have been detained.
The Azerbaijani side considers the detainees to be saboteurs who must be held accountable before a court of law.
The Armenian side meanwhile says these prisoners of war should be returned to their homeland.
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A letter from Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was circulated as a document of the UN General Assembly and Security Council.
The letter speaks of “Armenia’s activities aimed at undermining stability and contrary to international law and the trilateral statement of November 10,” the press service of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry reported.
Bayramov noted in his letter that “in the liberated territory of the Khojavend region of Azerbaijan, the Armenian armed forces carry out sabotage and provocations, as a result of the anti-terrorist operations carried out by the relevant structures of Azerbaijan, 62 members of the sabotage group, who are citizens of Armenia, were detained.”
It was brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General that “the implementation of such sabotage and provocation by the Armenian armed forces on the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan a month after the signing of the joint statement is evidence of a gross violation by Armenia of the principles of international law, as well as the obligations assumed according to the statement.”
Reaction from Armenia
The Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the criminal prosecution against Armenian prisoners of war:
“These actions of the Azerbaijani authorities are a gross violation of international humanitarian law. […] The release and repatriation of the prisoners of war is clearly enshrined in the November 9 statement, and the prosecution of the prisoners of war after the adaptation of the trilateral statement constitutes its gross violation”.
The statement says that the Armenian soldiers were captured as a result of a violation of another provision of the trilateral statement: Azerbaijan launched military operations in the direction of the 2 villages Hadrut region [on the administrative division of the Armenian side] a month after the establishment of the ceasefire:
“Notably the Azerbaijani side announced the prosecution of POWs about a month after the capturing of Armenian servicemen, which demonstrates that Azerbaijan is using Armenian prisoners of war as hostages to advance its political agenda”.
All Armenian servicemen captured by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces must be released and returned to Armenia. The Ombudsman of Armenia Arman Tatoyan wrote about this on his Facebook page:
“This should be done immediately and without any preconditions.“
The Ombudsman considers it unacceptable that the 8th paragraph of the trilateral armistice agreement of November 10, signed by the heads of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan, does not indicate specific dates for the exchange or return of prisoners:
“But this does not mean at all that it is permissible for the Azerbaijani authorities to constantly violate international requirements for human rights and humanitarian agreements. The return of prisoners is artificially delayed, their true number is not reported, moreover, attempts are being made to underestimate these data. All this time they are subjected to torture and inhuman treatment, interference is created for the exchange of bodies of the dead. “
The statements of the Azerbaijani authorities that the captured Armenians are not prisoners of war, but saboteurs, according to Arman Tatoyan, grossly trample on the post-war humanitarian process and international requirements for the protection of human rights:
“These statements directly contradict the requirements of Clause 8 of the tripartite statement of November 10, 2020. They are prisoners by status, period. “
The Ombudsman of Armenia considers “completely unacceptable” the politicization of this essentially humanitarian issue and “obvious attempts of the Azerbaijani authorities to link it with any territorial issues.”
Comments from Baku
“The picture is interesting,” writes Ahmed Alili, director of the Caucasus Policy Analysis Center. “The trilateral statement says that ‘the troops must remain in the positions where they were at the moment of signing the document.’”
“The Armenian side deciphers it as follows: if Armenian servicemen are located on the ‘islands’ in the territories that were once part of the NKAO and are now controlled by Azerbaijan, they should remain there. At the moment, this circumstance is one of the topics for heated discussions between the parties.
But now it is becoming known to the public that the mentioned Armenian servicemen hid on the roofs and in the basements of the houses that survived and were not set on fire in Hadrut and nearby villages. In this context, the expression “must remain in their positions” begins to acquire a new meaning,” Alili said.
Military observer Asaf Quliyev supports a different opinion. In his comment to JAMnews, he said:
“It is necessary to pay attention to two points. First, the citizenship of these 62 detainees. Unfortunately, I do not have such data.
If they are citizens of Armenia, it means that Armenia is not fulfilling its obligations emanating from the trilateral statement of November 10. But here it is also possible a version according to which Armenia can declare that the detainees do not obey the Armenian authorities. If so, these people are not prisoners of war, but members of a terrorist group that does not obey the laws of either their country or Azerbaijan. Based on this, they are criminals.
But if the detainees are residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, they can be classified as living on the territory of Azerbaijan, but not obeying the laws of this country. And in this case, they cannot be considered prisoners of war.
As for the terminology, saboteurs and terrorists are different concepts. Saboteurs are part of the armed forces of a country that performs the tasks assigned to it. Terrorists are outside the law, the Geneva Conventions on the Status of Prisoners of War are not applied to them. “
Information about Armenian prisoners of war in Azerbaijan
The parties agreed on the exchange of prisoners on the principle of “all for all”. In total, after the end of the 44-day war, 54 prisoners returned to Armenia. But, according to the Armenian side, the number of Armenian prisoners in Azerbaijan is much higher.
Lawyer Siranush Sahakyan, who represents the interests of Armenian prisoners at the European Court of Human Rights, claims that Armenia has irrefutable evidence that at least 120 Armenian prisoners were held in Azerbaijan.
However, the State Commission on the Affairs of Prisoners of Azerbaijan reports only about 5 Armenian prisoners: 2 military personnel and 3 civilians.
According to Sahakyan, speaking of only five prisoners, Azerbaijan “is abusing the helpless position of the Armenian authorities.”