Azerbaijan’s Ongoing Crimes Against Armenian Captives
By Uzay Bulut
06/30/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Nine months after Azerbaijan’s genocidal invasion of the Armenian Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in the South Caucuses, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, which militarily aided Azerbaijan during last year’s invasion campaign, recently visited the city of Shushi.
During a trip across the city, Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and Erdogan’s wife, Emine Erdogan, were caught on tape bragging about holding Armenian hostages. In the recording, which was widely shared on social media, Mrs. Erdogan asks Aliyev if Azerbaijan still has Armenian prisoners.
Aliyev joyfully confirms. Mrs. Erdogan laughs, praises Allah and responds happily by suggesting Aliyev to deal with or release the captives “step by step/gradually.”
Turkey and Azerbaijan are thus publicly celebrating the massive destruction they have mutually brought upon Christian Armenians. From September 27 to November 10, 2020, Azerbaijan – with the full support of Turkey and Syrian jihadist mercenaries – unleashed a murderous war against the indigenous Armenian land of Artsakh. For 44 days, they indiscriminately bombed it and committed many war crimes against the population there. They murdered thousands of Armenians and displaced about 100,000 from their homes.
Anahit Khosroeva, a genocide scholar and historian, said that the aggressive war by the Azeri-Turkish alliance against Artsakh is a continuation of the 1915 Armenian Genocide:
“The war by Azerbaijan and Turkey against Artsakh is an act of ethnic cleansing. It was an excuse for Erdogan to continue the Armenian Genocide that he aggressively denies. Throughout the war, Turkey gave full military and political support to Azerbaijan and Erdogan was encouraging Aliyev to escalate Azeri aggression against Armenians. Their goal was and still is to achieve pan-Turkism to unite the so-called ‘Turkic world’ and they see the existence of Armenia and Artsakh as an obstacle before their imperialistic goals.”
Khosroeva refers to the fall of Shushi as “a historic event.” She says,
“For 300 hundred years Ottoman sultans and the Young Turks, who committed the Armenian genocide, wanted to capture Shushi, a mountainous fortress, from Armenians. The city has major strategic significance in the region. And unfortunately, they managed to capture the city by committing many war crimes against Armenians. This is further signal that they will continue trying to expand their territorial gains by military force, bringing further destruction and instability to the region.”
During the war, many videos were posted on social media showing Azerbaijani soldiers mutilating, beheading and committing other acts of torture and inhumane treatment against Armenians, including both servicemen and civilians.
The organization Democracy Today has documented these war crimes. The report details Azeri attacks on civil population, children, journalists, members of humanitarian missions, and religious, cultural, and educational institutions and civil property, as well as torture, and inhuman treatment of civilians and prisoners of war (POWs). It also gives comprehensive information about the recruitment of mercenaries by Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as the use of drones and weapons of mass destruction against Armenians in the region.
The ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia and signed on November 9 by Azerbaijan and Armenia suspended the 44-day aggression of Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance against Artsakh.
Article 8 of the agreement requires both Armenia and Azerbaijan to release all POWs. Azerbaijan has not revealed the actual number of the captives, but Armenian rights advocates estimate that around 200 Armenian POWs have still not been released by Azerbaijan. While Armenia has fulfilled this requirement, Aliyev’s government is still proudly violating the agreement and the international law by refusing to release the captives.
The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 states that “Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities.” The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment and the European Convention on Human Rights also prohibit torture altogether.
On April 22, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called on Azerbaijan to release Armenian POWs and other captives “without delay.”
Nonetheless, their calls fell on deaf ears. Azerbaijan still brands the Armenian captives as “terrorists.” The captives that Aliyev and Mrs. Erdogan mocked in Shushi have been illegally held, sentenced to prison, tortured and in some cases, murdered, by Azerbaijan. In May, for instance, lawyers Artak Zeynalyan and Siranush Sahakyan said that Azerbaijani servicemen tortured and killed 19 Armenian prisoners.
J.H. Seymour, reporting for the news website Asbarez, states that “several Armenian POWs have been tortured to death in captivity. One of them was 18-year-old Eric Mkhitaryan, missing since October. Video recording of Eric captured and abused by Azerbaijani soldiers was circulating on social media back in November. After six months of ordeal and identification process, Eric’s remains were returned to his family on April 8.”
The Ad Hoc Report by the Human Rights Defender of Armenia also revealed many cases of torture and mistreatment of Armenian civilians and soldiers while in captivity in Azerbaijan. These violations include but are not limited to beating, humiliating the captives to induce false statements and physical torture, sometimes resulting in death. The report also gives many examples, some of which include:
“A civilian captive Sedrak Petrosyan, who was returned on 10th of December, confessed that he was drugged, severely beaten and also subjected to mental torture as he was told that his son is [sic] killed and the dogs were fed with his dead body.”
“An eyewitness, Yevgeniya Babayan, who was released from captivity, also confirmed the beatings of civilians. In a police station, she saw two other Armenians, one of them a young man with civilian clothing. That young man was blindfolded and had his hands and feet tied together. He was thrown into the corner of the room, and Azerbaijani soldiers took turns in kicking him in different parts of his body. The next day, when Babayan was being taken out of the police station, she saw that the young man was put in a sack and was being dragged to a car. She was also told that they had butchered and beheaded the two foregoing Armenians.”
One of the captives, Vicken Euljekian, a Lebanese-Armenian, has recently been sentenced to 20 years in prison by Azerbaijan. Asbarez reported that he was accused of “being a terrorist and a mercenary and illegally entering Azerbaijan.”
“Euljekjian, who has dual Armenian and Lebanese citizenships, was found guilty after a short trial condemned by Armenia’s government and human rights groups as a travesty of justice,” Asbarez added.
“Liparit Drmeyan, an aide to Armenia’s representative to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), said Euljekjian did not have access to lawyers chosen by him and the Azerbaijani authorities failed to substantiate the charges leveled against him. Drmeyan said the Armenian government will appeal against the verdict in the Strasbourg-based court. ‘We are convinced that Azerbaijan has violated Vicken Euljekjian’s rights,’ he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.”
On June 11, Seymour reported for Asbarez on Euljekjian’s family’s efforts to help him be released from captivity, as well as the short message he recently sent to his family. He wrote:
“Mama, it is me, Vicken, say hello to everyone, to Serj, Tina, my brothers, tell everyone I am fine.’ This heart-wrenching message, written by Vicken Euljekjian, a Lebanese-Armenian currently being held prisoner in Azerbaijan, was delivered by the Red Cross weeks later to his distraught mother, digin (madam in Armenian) Beatrice in Beirut, after being meticulously checked and translated by the Azerbaijani authorities. In fact, there was not much to translate. Nevertheless, this short note meant a lot to Vicken’s distressed family hoping for some good news yet fearing the worst since his capture in November 2020.”
“Vicken is one of four brothers born on July 12, 1979 in Beirut to an Armenian family of Genocide survivors. As the Lebanese economy has been deteriorating year by year, Vicken decided to relocate to Armenia to start a small business and subsequently bring his children from Beirut. Obtaining Armenian citizenship in 2015, he permanently moved to Yerevan in November 2019, and purchased a 7-seater vehicle running sightseeing tours for visitors.”
“There is no legal ground to detain Vicken by Azerbaijani authorities, and he should have never been captured in the first place on 10 November 2020. Vicken’s teenage daughter Christine – currently on the verge of health breakdown – is appealing for her father’s safe return home.”
“Euljekjan must be released immediately,” human rights lawyer Garo Ghazarian said, and then continued:
“Let no one sugarcoat what has now taken place in Baku. They held a sham trial to ‘convict’ Euljekjan. This, against the backdrop of Erdogan’s assistance during 44 days of carnage unleashed onto the civilian population of Artsakh, who openly provided the Azerbaijani forces with aid by Turkish-backed foreign mercenaries, many of whom with recognized ties to international terrorist groups. To put it mildly, this is an insult to the world order by both Erdogan and Aliyev.”
“The fact that 9 months after the ceasefire, Azerbaijan continues to illegally hold Armenian civilians as POWs, ignores its obligations to implement the requirements of the ceasefire agreement entered into on November 9th, is a blatant violation of international law.”
“This outrageous stance is entirely due to Europe, Russia, and the United States thus far having done nothing other than paying lip service on the matter.”
“The world community is long overdue on imposing targeted economic sanctions, and to be clear, not only onto Azerbaijan, but also onto its sponsor, Turkey. All aid and trade of any sort, military or economic must be halted until all Armenian POWs and civilian detainees are released from Azerbaijani custody.”
“Erdogan and Aliyev have violated international law without impunity and until significant action is taken to hold them accountable, they will continue to get away with murder and mayhem, and yes, they will even get away with their genocidal intent against Armenians.”
“Absent crippling sanctions, Turkey and its proxy Azerbaijan will continue to destabilize the region by their violation of human rights in defiance to all norms and international standards. Their rogue choices must have dire consequences if these hostile activities are to end.”
“Absent the harshest consequences being meted out by the international community, Azerbaijani soldiers will continue to occupy border areas in Armenia’s southern Gegharkunik and Syunik provinces, now more than seven months after the November 9th ceasefire.”
“The United Nations and the European Union must condemn Azerbaijan, must impose sanctions onto both Azerbaijan and Turkey, and they must insist on the immediate release of Armenian detainees and POWs from Azerbaijani custody.”
As the organization Democracy Today notes in its recent report:
“We keep repeating ‘Never Again’! But failure to recognize these crimes and bring perpetrators to justice enables the development and perpetuation of a culture of impunity and in the multiplication of patterns of these crimes of genocide in many parts of the world: Rohingya in Myanmar, Nuer, and other ethnic groups in South Sudan, Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria, Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic, Darfuris in Sudan and still many, many others.
“Can the world turn a blind eye to genocides and ethnic and cultural cleansing taking place today?”
Sadly, the world turns a blind eye even when the perpetrators – Azerbaijan and Turkey – publicly make fun of the crimes they have been committing in Artsakh. That means we will most likely continue hearing more news of Armenian captives tortured, executed, or illegally sentenced to prison in Azerbaijan as many Armenians are desperately waiting for the return of their family members.
About the author: Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in The Washington Times, The American Conservative, The Christian Post, The Jerusalem Post, and Al-Ahram Weekly. Her work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics and history, religious minorities in the Middle East, and antisemitism.