Protecting Humanitarian Norms, Avoiding Escalation

Special for the Armenian Weekly

On Mon., Oct. 27, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Paris for another set of negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.

On July 11, footage appeared on Armenian TV of one of the captives, Dilgam Askerov, being dragged by masked Special Forces officers before a senior army official.
On July 11, footage appeared on Armenian TV of one of the captives, Dilgam Askerov, being dragged by masked Special Forces officers before a senior army official.

The talks came on the heels of a summer that saw the deadliest fighting between the two sides in over two decades. At least 30 soldiers died in one week of border clashes in late July and early August, a total higher than all of the casualties seen in 2013. The United States, Russia, and the European Union all issued statements calling for a diffusion of tensions and respect for the 1994 ceasefire. In the meantime, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev went on Twitter declaring, “The war is not over. Only the first stage of it is.”

What sparked the burst of combat remains unclear. Theories abound—from developments in Ukraine and Russian meddling, to testing the combat readiness of the opposing side.

But there is one very important variable that receives little attention: the treatment of civilians and enemy captives.

This year began with the capture and torture of 77-year-old Mamikon Khojoyan, a mentally ill villager from northern Armenia who accidentally crossed the border. Azerbaijani authorities paraded him on TV as a “saboteur,” showing him with a cast over his arm and ridiculously claiming he worked for the Armenian secret service.

When he was returned home one month later, I visited him, along with the Foundation Against the Violation of Law. It was beyond disturbing to see this helpless man lying in a hospital bed with signs of torture all over his body. A forensic exam later found toxic substances in his blood—believed to be the cause of his death on May 20.

The way Khojoyan was treated symbolizes an ongoing policy of systematic violence against Armenians by the Azerbaijani government. It is such violence that helped propel the Karabagh movement in the first place, and continues to convince most Armenians that there is little hope for normal relations with their neighbor. Open displays of such brutality—coupled with bellicose war rhetoric and the official celebration of the likes of Ramil Safarov by Baku—only serve to heighten tensions.

Karen Petrosyan was quickly apprehended, labeled a “saboteur,” and pronounced dead under Azerbaijani custody the following day.
Karen Petrosyan was quickly apprehended, labeled a “saboteur,” and pronounced dead under Azerbaijani custody the following day.

Although the actions and pronouncements of the Armenian government are much more reserved, it has not been immune from acts that have increased the risk of armed conflict.

In early July, about one month before the bloody border clashes, three Azerbaijani citizens crossed into Kelbajar, in Karabagh, in what Armenian authorities described as a sabotage mission. According to official reports, the men were armed and responsible for the death of a local teenager, as well as the killing of an army officer and wounding of a woman in a shootout. One of the men, Hasan Hasanov, was killed in the attack; the other two are currently being tried on criminal charges. Interestingly enough, their trial began in Stepanakert on Oct. 27—the same day the presidents began talks in Paris.

On July 11, footage appeared on Armenian TV of one of the captives, Dilgam Askerov, being dragged by masked Special Forces officers before a senior army official. Images of the other man were also widely distributed to the media, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions’ ban against “insults and public curiosity” of prisoners of war.

This publicly staged humiliation of the Azeri captives surely aggravated the subsequent tension along the border this summer. In his thorough analysis of the incident, Emil Sanamyan suggests that the clashes in late July and early August may have even been motivated by a desperate attempt on the part of Azerbaijan to capture Armenians as retaliation for this incident.

Ironically, Azerbaijan’s wishes came true away from the theater of combat when, on Aug. 7, a villager in northern Armenia accidentally crossed the border a few kilometers from his frontier home. Karen Petrosyan was quickly apprehended, labeled a “saboteur,” and pronounced dead under Azerbaijani custody the following day.

Upon his capture, Petrosyan was dragged before TV cameras by masked men in army fatigues and shown interrogated by an Azerbaijani general, almost identical to how Askerov was paraded one month earlier. The similarity of this display further suggests that the flare-up in fighting was motivated by retaliation for the capture of the three Azerbaijani citizens in Kelbajar. Indeed, the clashes effectively ended after Petrosyan was killed.

Although the cases of Khojoyan and Petrosyan—unarmed civilians who ended up dead—differ sharply from the Azerbaijanis who were captured in Karabagh—with the latter admitting to being armed, and currently undergoing trial for the death of a juvenile—the uncharacteristic manner in which Askerov was officially shown up on TV only added fuel to the fire. In contrast, we have seen how more measured approaches based on international norms can actually help diffuse high tensions.

Thus, while pundits speak about geopolitical maneuvering, peace proposals, and dialogue, a more important matter is to reduce the risk of actions dictated by incitement and retaliation. These provocations can quickly escalate into a dangerous spiral of violence.

Given the porous nature of the border separating Armenia from Azerbaijan, we are likely to see other cases of apprehended civilians and combatants in the future. It is thus essential that negotiations address the responsibility of both sides in refraining from public humiliation and ill treatment. An adherence to basic standards of humanitarian practice is not only the obligation of both states before international law, it is essential in avoiding an unexpected and unwarranted escalation into further conflict.

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Serouj Aprahamian

Serouj Aprahamian has always been actively involved in the Armenian community. From 2007-2009, he served as the Capital Gateway Program Director for the Armenian National Committee of America in DC, while obtaining a Master's in International Relations from American University. He also served for three years as the Executive Director of the AYF Western Region and has contributed regularly to the Armenian Weekly, Haytoug, and Asbarez. He is currently a correspondent of the Armenian Weekly in Yerevan.

11 Comments

  1. Thank you for bringing up this important issue, Mr. Aprahamian. As you mention so accurately, this is a topic that isn’t unfortunately given much attention at all, even though human lives are at stake every day. The situation is indeed far from being handled decently by either side and according to international law. In light of the miserable fate of the captives, more particularly on the Armenian side, it seems logical to hope that the Armenian government will make it a high priority and urgently take steps to correct the situation.

  2. Mr. Aprahamian,

    Those three armed Azerbaijani terrorists certainly did not deserve better treatment after they crossed into Artsakh and proceeded to start a shootout in which they murdered two people and wounded another. Under those kinds of circumstances, the Armenian side had every right to shoot back at those three terrorists. Instead of only one invading Azerbaijani terrorist being killed, all three should’ve been killed. In regard to those remaining two terrorists who weren’t killed, exactly why was it so inhumane for them to be shown on Armenian TV, while being insulted at? Once again, what right did those three Azeri terrorists have in crossing the border into Artsakh while being armed, and then proceeding to shoot at Armenians?

    In regard to those Armenians who unintentionally crossed the border into Azerbaijan, such as Mamikon Khojoyan and Karen Petrosyan, were they armed? The answer is no. Did they attempt to harm anyone? The answer again is no. Nevertheless, the Azerbaijanis proceeded to savagely torture both of them, which led to their deaths. These two situations involving the Armenian side and Azerbaijani side, are totally different from one another.

    When you talk about “an adherence to basic standards of humanitarian practice” as being an obligation, as well as avoiding escalation into further conflict, how does all of this relate to the terrorist state of Azerbaijan? Their whole entire philosophy towards Armenians is the exact opposite of all that. If you didn’t already know by now, the Azerbaijani leadership’s mission is to destroy the Armenian people. Exactly how is the Republic of Armenia supposed to engage in negotiations with that kind of barbaric beast?

  3. Mr. or Mrs. Yerevanian,

    The article already makes clear that the cases of the Armenian civilians who were captured differ sharply from the case of the Azerbaijanis who infiltrated NKR. There is no attempt to equate the two.

    Adherence to humanitarian norms relates to all states. Especially those that are signatories to the Geneva Conventions and other such statutes. Torture, ill-treatment, public humiliation of prisoners, etc. should be unacceptable no matter who the culprit is.

    Such actions serve no functional purpose other than to escalate tension and conflict. That’s the basic point the article is pointing out.

  4. Mr. Aprahamian,

    Your article actually does give the impression that you’re attempting to establish that the Armenian side is equally at fault with the Azerbaijani side. To begin with, you stated that “it (Armenia) has not been immune from acts that have increased the risk of armed conflict.” Exactly how has Armenia increased the risk of armed conflict when it’s been Azerbaijan who’s been the aggressor state this whole entire time? Who is it that persistently launches terrorist raids to the other side of the border? The answer is Azerbaijan. Who is it that persistently sprays sniper gunfire to the other side of the border on a daily basis? The answer again is Azerbaijan. Furthermore, you go on to accuse Armenia of adding “fuel to the fire” by displaying one of the Azerbaijani terrorists on television. That’s a rather extreme statement to make. It sounds like you’re trying to make Armenia as being equally as guilty as Azerbaijan.

    In regard to “adherence to humanitarian norms,” it’s indeed true that it relates to all the states. However, Azerbaijan has never once followed these principles. On the contrary, it has persistently gone against these principles in every which way. As for Armenia, has it ever launched any terrorist raids on Azerbaijan? The answer is no. Does it spray sniper gunfire at civilians or soldiers on the other side of the border in Azerbaijan? The answer is no. Has it physically tortured Azerbaijani prisoners? The answer is no. So, exactly what’s your point in making a big deal about that one particular Azerbaijani terrorist who was displayed on Armenian TV? Let me again remind you that he, along with his two buddies, crossed the border into Artsakh, armed with guns and then proceeded to shoot at Armenians, in which two people were killed and one wounded. It is these actions, along with all of the other violent actions by Azerbaijan, which have escalated tension and conflict in this particular region of the world.

  5. Mr. Aprahamian:

    After reading your article several times, with great care, and also having read the relevant posts by you both, I have no choice but to fully agree with [Yerevanian].

    I may be wrong, but you appear to be connecting the torture and murder of the unarmed, lost civilian Garen Petrosyan to the alleged mistreatment of two Turkbaijani terrorists who, after deliberately invading Armenian lands, had just kidnapped and murdered an Armenian minor of 17, and had almost murdered an Armenian civilian woman, whose life was saved only by rapid medical response.
    In effect blaming Armenians themselves for the torture and murder of an Armenian civilian ? (!)
    Meaning that had NKR authorities not shown the terrorists on video, Garen Petrosyan would not have been tortured and murdered ?

    Here is why I have reached that conclusion:

    First, the tile of the article itself: [Protecting Humanitarian Norms, Avoiding Escalation]

    In and of itself the title implies that when Armenians allegedly do not protect humanitarian norms, then it gives Azerbaijanis an excuse to escalate.
    Why Armenians ? well, when was the last time Turkbaijanis protected _any_ humanitarian norms. So clearly you meant Armenians.
    ‘Avoiding Escalation’ ? Of course you meant Azerbaijanis: when was the last time Armenians went looking for a fight ?

    Next, the pictures: by placing the picture of the Turkbaijani terrorist first, in custody, followed by the picture of Garen Petrosyan, falsely dressed up as a ‘commando’, you are clearly alleging a cause-and-effect scenario.
    Are you not ?
    Why didn’t you also include the picture of Garen Petrosyan while he was sitting in his civilian clothes and having a tea (or beer) with Azerbaijani villagers ?
    When you post both picture in sequence as you did, there is no other conclusion that can be reached.

    Mr. Aprahamian if you think (as I see it) that Turkbaijanis murdered Garen Petrosyan because the filthy mugs of terrorist killers were briefly shown* on TV, then please explain these**:

    1. In November 2010, 20-year-old shepherd Manvel Saribekyan, got lost while tending his herd and was abducted by the Azerbaijani criminal state. He was beaten and tortured for days. He was humiliated publicly on Azeri TV and forced by the terrorist state to ‘confess’ that he was a ‘spy’. He was subsequently tortured to death. Murdered.
    Q: what did the Armenian side do to cause this ‘Escalation’ ?

    2. In August 2013, Armenian conscript Hakob Injighulian wandered off from his unit, got lost, and was taken prisoner by Azerbaijan. He was in active service and in the uniform of Armenian armed forces. After he was captured, he was forced to wear the uniform of Azerbaijan’s criminal military while being paraded on Azeri TV , and publicly humiliated. Clear violations of the Geneva Convention. He was illegally kept prisoner for 1 year. Lies were spread by Baku about him allegedly fearing to return to Armenia, about being starved during his service, and many other fantasies. He refuted everything upon his happy return to Yerevan. He also stated that he was subjected to beatings and forced to make up lies about Armenian military. Again, clear violations of Geneva Convention: remember, he was in full and recognizable military uniform of a UN member State when taken into custody.
    Q: what did the Armenian side do to cause this ‘Escalation’ ?

    3. What exactly did Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan do to ‘escalate’ and ‘cause’ a Turkbaijani psychopath to murder him in his sleep ?
    Why is the savage living the good life in Baku ?
    What did the Armenian side do to cause that ‘Escalation’ ?

    So, if you are blaming, in a backhanded way, Armenians for the torture and murder of Garen Petrosyan, can we then blame criminals in Baku for NKR authorities’ showing the filthy mug of the terrorists on video on the fact that in 2010 they tortured and murdered a young Armenian shepherd ? Cause-and-effect, No ?
    Can we say Turkbaijanis ‘escalated’ us by springing an ax murderer via bribes and receiving him as a hero in Baku ?
    How about it ?

    And since when do Turks need an excuse to murder Armenians ?
    We all know, of course, that Armenians were only humanely ‘deported’ in 1915 because, you know, they had formed ‘armed gangs’ and were ‘collaborating’ with Russians.
    And it was also our fault that we were in the way of the invading Turkic nomadic tribes from Uyguristan.
    It’s always our fault. We should never do anything to anger the peace loving Turks; otherwise they might ‘Escalate’.

    It gives me great pain to know that this article was written by an AYFer. A former Executive Director of the AYF Western Region.
    Immortal Garegin Nzhdeh must be turning in his grave.
    God be with you, compatriot.


    * It should be obvious to any Armenian, particularly a well-informed AYFer, why the faces of the Turkbaijani terrorists were briefly shown on video: Azerbaijan authorities routinely deny any incursions into Armenian lands. NKR authorities had no choice but to let the public at large and representatives of foreign states (e.g. EU, US,…) see the faces of these terrorists for identification purposes, _while_ they were in the clothing they were in when captured. And as you well know, Geneva Convention does not apply to terrorists and spies. These terrorists were not wearing uniforms of the Azerbaijani military: True or False ? Let’s also not forget, that in addition to the murder of a 17 year old, attempted murder of a civilian woman, an Armenian military officer was killed by the invading terrorists while he was attempting to apprehend them.
    The liars in Baku are claiming – surprise, surprise – the terrorist murderers were ‘abducted’ by NKR authorities and are, quote, ‘hostages’: they were allegedly ‘visiting’ their own ‘Azerbaijani’ lands, and had supposedly every right to be there. Brother, are these the vile scum you are defending ? What the heck for ?

    ** You understand these are only a few of the hundreds of criminal and terrorist Turkbaijani acts past 20-30 years alone.

  6. Hello Serouj, I concur with your argument in general, but would not that Askerov and Guliyev are not treated as prisoners of war, but as individuals who committed criminal acts potentially motivated by the Azerbaijani government. So in principle their photos should have been made public at least to establish in what condition they were arrested. That said the video with Askerov was completely ridiculous and unnecessary. It was also clearly inspired by a very similar video produced by Russian police just a month earlier when they apprehended an Azerbaijani citizen on charges of murder. Ironically that person, Orhan Zeynalov, came from the same town of Shamkhor as Dilgam Askerov. See video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umS-P92c6Ek

    • This no-good Turkbaijani thug had stabbed to death a 25-year-old ethnic Russian man, Yegor Shcherbakov, in front of his girlfriend: the savage was attempting to have his way with the woman, a complete stranger, and his boyfriend attempted to defend her, and was murdered.
      And since he was an Azerbaijani, and police are Russian – his alleged rights were of course ‘violated’

      [Boston Police Take Naked Man Into Custody]
      See the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9D8mz83ht8#t=14

      The individual, who was never identified, was thought to be one of the Boston bombing suspects.(Police later released him).

      He was _publicly_ stripped naked, on a public street and paraded.
      Of course that is OK, because it was done by those famous law & order, US Constitution and all that, law abiding American cops.

      But anything done by Russian, or RoA, or NKR police must be criticized. Just because.

      Question: what is better; to rough-handle a vicious criminal who had just stabbed a young man to death in front of his girlfriend – complete strangers – or be stripped naked and paraded in public, even though you are only suspected of having done something.

      I can link hundreds of vids of police in US savagely beating suspects or complete innocents in public.
      Some to death.
      But will make no difference to people who have an agenda.

  7. Again, in order to Protect Humanitarian Norms, and to Avoid Escalation, peace-loving Turkbaijanis came over in-peace to Armenian lands (…well, actually invadonomad* Turkish lands currently occupied by indigenous Armenians**), to sit down at a peace table and discuss peace.

    They came uninvited, of course, and came bearing arms to a peace conference, but nothing new there.
    It is their nomadic Turkic peace-loving custom: Safaroglu came prepared to a NATO peace training in Hungary bearing a sharpened axe.
    To Protect Human Norms, of course.
    To Avoid Escalation, of course.

    Anyhooo.

    So these peace-loving Turks decided to kill some Armenian soldiers, to, you know, prevent those warmongering Armenians from any future Escalations. Another young Armenian man was KIA by peace-loving Turks.
    On December 8, 2014, young Armenian soldier Garik Ispeyan, 21, received a fatal injury after being shot by Caucasian Turks.
    He must have done something bad, of course, to provoke those peace-loving Uyguroglar.

    And sadly, Armenians did not protect Humanitarian Norms, again, and KIA 5-6 peaceful Turkbaijani guests.
    Tsk, Tsk, Tsk: those non-Humanitarian Norms Armenians.

    —-
    * See, since Turks are nomads, everywhere they pitch their InvadoYurt become ‘Turkish lands’: simple and so convenient. No ?
    Why bother building, creating something: you just show up, pitch your Yurt, murder the indigenous creators – and voila, ‘Turkish Lands’.
    What’s even better is that there will surely be at least some Armenians who will blame Armenians themselves for their own demise.

    ** these were Turkish lands, even before there was such a thing as Turk. 1000s of years ago migrating proto-Armenians did not know these were future Turkish lands, so decided to stay and become Armenians. Their fault of course, for setting up shop on future Turkish lands.

    • Avey, some brain washed Turks believe that Adam in the book of Turkish Koran was a Turk, and Allah gave a virgin wife to Adam and called her Eve! Their children traveled all over the world and finally America was discovered, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

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