Armenian Soldiers Missing in Renewed Attacks, Demands for Pashinyan’s Resignation Increase

At least 60 Armenian soldiers have gone missing in action from their posts near the Khtsabert village of the southernmost Hadrut region of Artsakh. 

Khtsabert and Hin Tagher were the targets of attacks by the Azerbaijani military on December 11, the first resumption of military hostilities since the end-of-war agreement was signed on November 9. 

While the Hadrut region was captured by Azerbaijan during the war, these two villages remained under Armenian control as of November 9. The Armenian Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that after several hours of fighting the Azerbaijani armed forces succeeded in entering the village of Hin Tagher and approached the village of Khtsabert. Military officials say both sides suffered casualties. Six Armenian soldiers were wounded in the attack. 

The Russian MoD confirmed on December 12 that the incident the previous day represented the first ceasefire violation since the trilateral agreement was signed over a month earlier. Prior to the attack, no Russian peacekeepers had been stationed at Hin Tagher and Khtsabert, even though the two villages are located on roads controlled by the Azerbaijani military. Shortly after the fighting, Russian peacekeepers entered the area, de-escalating hostilities. The following day, the MoD of Russia released a new map of its peacekeeping presence in Artsakh, demonstrating southward expansion of Russian control by ten kilometers along a narrow strip of land extending to Hin Tagher and Khtsabert. However, on December 14, the MoD published a map omitting that strip of land, suggesting that the Azerbaijani military has taken control of Hin Tagher and Khtsabert.

On the morning of December 16, the Artsakh MoD reported that it had lost communication with several units of the Armenian armed forces in the Hin Tagher and Khtsabert communities. Russian peacekeepers had been called to the region to assist in searching for the missing soldiers overnight to ascertain whether they had been captured. During a speech broadcast on Facebook Live that afternoon, Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan confirmed that several dozen Armenian soldiers had been taken prisoner by Azerbaijan. 

The Armenian MoD denied rumors circulating that 171 Armenian soldiers are missing, instead reporting that the fate of 73 soldiers is unknown. It said that investigations to find them are ongoing with the support of Russian peacekeepers. The MoD also affirmed that a video circulating online depicting a group of Armenian soldiers being escorted out of an Azerbaijani blockade in Hadrut corresponds to reality, stating that the operation was conducted with the participation of Russian peacekeeping forces.

In a statement denouncing the December 11 attack, the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that Azerbaijani forces continued their provocative actions the following day in the direction of the Mets Shen and Hin Shen villages. After visiting these communities, Beglaryan said that the actions of Azerbaijani servicemen in the area “violated the highest political arrangements” while “posing threats to the security of the local population.” Harutyunyan confirmed during his speech that Azerbaijani soldiers had been driven out of Hin Shen by Russian peacekeepers. 

During a live Facebook address on December 14, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that the Azerbaijani military had taken “advantage of the fact that Russian peacekeepers had not been deployed in this region” to attack Hin Tagher and Khtsabert, consequently taking “control of those communities.” “Since according to the situation on November 9 that region was under the control of the Armenian armed forces, it must continue to remain under the control of the Armenian armed forces,” he said. According to the ceasefire agreement, each side would stop at their positions and retain control of territories captured in the course of the war as of November 9. 

During that same video address, Pashinyan stated that a group of prisoners of war (POWs) whose capture had been confirmed by the International Committee of the Red Cross would soon be returned home. That evening, 44 POWs were transported to Armenia on a Russian airplane. 

Armenia and Azerbaijan claim to have fulfilled exchange of POWs on an “all-for-all” basis to which they had previously committed, as 14 POWs were also transferred to Azerbaijan. Yet Beglaryan stressed that all of the Armenian POWs have not yet been returned home, as there are still Armenian soldiers held captive in Azerbaijan, as well as missing soldiers and civilians. Pashinyan stated during his address that the process of locating and identifying missing soldiers will commence immediately after the exchange yet will not be complete by the end of the year. 

Azerbaijan has received international criticism regarding evidence of its cruel and inhumane treatment of Armenian captive soldiers, including a scathing report printed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on December 2 condemning Azerbaijan’s violent and humiliating treatment of POWs. HRW spoke with human rights attorneys Artak Zeynalyan and Siranush Sahakyan, who represent the families of nearly forty POWs in cases submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for urgent measures to secure their protection and sufficient medical care while in captivity. According to Zeynalyan, half of the 44 POWs returned to Armenia on December 14 are individuals on behalf of whom they have submitted complaints to the ECHR. 

On December 10, Amnesty International published a report based on 22 videos, calling for an investigation into war crimes committed by both Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers. Two of the videos show “extrajudicial executions by decapitation by Azerbaijani military members” while another shows “the cutting of an Azerbaijani border guard’s throat that led to his death.” A large number of videos circulating online and on social media depicting Azerbaijani troops torturing and executing Armenian POWs and desecrating their corpses remain unverified. 

On the same day of the exchange, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan shared that four Azerbaijani soldiers had been arrested and charged under the Azerbaijani Criminal Code based on evidence from videos disseminated on social media in which they were seen insulting the bodies of Armenian servicemen in the region of Zangilan and destroying Armenian gravestones in the region of Khojavend. In its announcement, the Prosecutor General’s Office said these acts “contradict the mentality of the Azerbaijani people, which is tolerant…and historically humane.”

Protest calling for the resignation of PM Pashinyan, December 9, 2020 (Photo: ARF-ER Central Committee Chairman George Aghjayan)

Meanwhile the “Movement for the Salvation of the Homeland” has called for a nationwide strike and boycott of university classes to commence at midnight on Tuesday, December 22 in order to demand Pashinyan’s resignation. The general strike was announced by Armenian Revolutionary Federation Supreme Council chairperson Ishkhan Saghatelyan during a protest in Yerevan on Wednesday. “The entire country must be paralyzed so that this scarecrow resigns as soon as possible,” he proclaimed. 

During his live address, Artsakh President Harutyunyan stated that he is ready to resign from his position when he feels that the Republic is prepared to overcome the domestic instability associated with presidential and parliamentary elections. At the earliest possible moment, he will resign and elections will be held in which he will not take part. In the meantime he has stepped down from his post as chairman of the “Free Homeland” political party to make way for a more unifying figure.

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is a staff writer for the Armenian Weekly. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hetq and the Daily Californian. She is pursuing master’s degrees in Journalism and Near Eastern Studies at New York University. A human rights journalist and feminist poet, Lillian's first poetry collection Journey to Tatev was released with Girls on Key Press in spring of 2021.

12 Comments

  1. Non of this seems right. Something is wrong with this whole situation. Its hard for me to believe the information that comes from the current Armenian leadership .. The entire war seems a lie. The information we were fed is a lie. Armenian military was either purposely not used or there is total incompetence from the Pashinyan leadership or even worse, the possible whisper of a treasonous man, but without proof we cant assume that.. Or that, the Armenian army was truly in disarray, weak, unprepared and incapable of protecting not only artsakh but now its own state borders and its interest. Non of these scenarios are good for Armenia and its future. I knew something was wrong when after the war started they were asking for volunteers to fight. Women and old men training for the front lines. My God! Pashinyan needs to go. His useless incompetence is glaring and has become a danger to Armenia. Not many believe him or trust his abilities what so ever. A bad situation we are in. A change is mandatory..

    • Absolutely agree with you. It is obvious something was not right. Armenian people all fight like lions, even against 10 times more enemy army, its is the government leaders of Armenia and Artsakh sold our lands and peoples’ lives. They are worse than turks

    • At the same time they held out for 44 days. Hard to believe the ‘disarray’ theory in my opinion.

    • @ reader..I agree with you on the disarray theory. It almost seems purposeful as the first war lasted 4 years. This was 44 days and then the eventual capitulation and loss of everything gained in the last 30 years and then some, as we don’t know what Pashinyan gave away and continues to give away. Hes vague and secretive and yet arrogantly seems to white wash this total disaster as ‘its OK, lets just move forward’. Throughout this war he kept everyone in the dark as major territorial losses were occurring. I remember 2 weeks prior to capitulation, when the Artsak president was warning and pleading for help with protecting Shushi, a clear bad sign, Pashinyan was making false and counter statements that everything was good. It was a total lie. This mans actions leans towards treasonous. He cant be trusted. He needs to be removed.

  2. I would strongly recommend watching “Anatomy of a War: An American General Weighs in on the 2020 Nagorno-karabakh War” on you tube. It is clear that Armenia and Artsakh should have been better prepared for such an attack. Whether they lacked the money, leadership, both, or were expecting help earlier from Russia or the US the end result is terrible. It is clear that Armenia needs to spend much more heavily on defense and seek help proactively from outside military experts to be better prepared for the next attack which will inevitably come. I don’t know how we in the Diaspora can help effectively provide for Armenia and Artsahk’s defense but we better figure it out quick.

    • Gary, good ideas.

      But how is Armenia to get better weapons? Does it have the money?

      As to getting weapons from other countries:

      We Armenians are now being told that Armenia cannot do or say ANYTHING that would offend Putin (supposedly Pashinyan had hurt Putin’s feelings) lest Putin punish Armenia.

      Therefore, would getting weapons from countries other than Russia offend Putin? Who knows?

      See, that’s the sort of problem we run into when not offending Putin becomes a top priority.

  3. Arayik Harutyunyan and Nikol Pashinyan must go under military Tribunal for all they did (and still do) to Armenian people.

  4. Whatleader who would take Pashinyan’s place has better ideas of how to proceed? Let’s hear his or her ideas and ability to carry it off.

    There needs to be a objective, independent of study of the war, but there probably will not be.

    This was primarily a Russian war. If Russia had the leverage to stop the war on November 9, it had the power to do so on Sept. 27.

    And please notice that Putin has since refused to criticize Turkey and has even included it in a joint monitoring post. That is a slap in the face to all Armenians.

    When Turkey was flying F-16s into Azerbaijan after the July war, did Putin object? I don’t think so. So what does that tell you?

    This was a war either allowed by Putin or wanted by Putin. I am truly shocked that so many Armenians are letting him off the hook. Afraid of “offending” him?

    And please don’t tell me that Putin had no right to intervene in Azerbaijan due to “international law.”

    Did “international law” stop Russia from invading and dividing Ukraine and Georgia? We know the answet.

  5. The exact reasons for this national catastrophy is not known yet although there are plenty of theories. A new government needs to investigate and take corrective action for any future war that is inevitable. Meanwhile, the infighting and blame culture needs to give way to a constructive dialogue between all internal parties and the diaspora to formulate a sensible way forward that will guarantee the future of all our homeland and the future of our small but precious nation.
    Our friends will not want to nurse maid a devided nation that has no concrete plans nor the necessary determination and administrative know how for success. We are an ancient nation that has suffered too much loss of precious lives and homeland throughout history and can not afford to do so by being devided and political point scoring. We have relied on self sacrifice of our heroic soldiers to survive instead of proper military strategies and suitable modern weapons. We need to have close strategic relations with our neighbours Iran and Russia with whom we share common interests and modernise our forces. A government of naional unity and proportioal representation is essential for our success. Meanwhile, we need to assist our present government through very difficult times to bring about stability for 6 to 12 months until a general election. We can do it if we exercise our common interest for national success and survival.

  6. I am ARMENIAN.
    For 30 years, Armenians were occupied fighting each other. Crooks, Thieves and all what the leadership wanted is to fill up their pockets, and collaborate with the wrong people. The new president has been in the office only for less than 2 years. What have we done in the past 30 years? Could a new president fix everything in just 2 years? To fix all the damages done by the previous leaders? I am not pro any one. I just want to know, what would have any other leader have done if they were in Pashinian’s shoes? And what will the replacement (if it happens) of Pashinian can do or accomplish? and with what? what weapons? HA! Help from where? (no where) and support from who? The answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AND NONE. Yes, it is very easy to blame the others. Every Armenian should blame himself, cause if we did instead of fighting with each other, may be or most likely we could have achieved something good. So, to all Armenians I say: “We suffered in 1915, and we suffered in 2020. So, have we learned from the past? Will we suffer another defeat? The enemy accomplished his mission by dividing us. If we think as we always proclaim that we are bright and very smart nation, then let us see if we come to understanding among ourselves, love all Armenians, and work together for a common goal because there will be another war in the near future. Ask yourself: “What have you done to help our homeland?”

    • Put a couple of hundred thousand USD in the country? Tried connecting with every Armenian in my professional network who, despite all their support for AGBU, Tumo or whatever, are notoriously dismissive of support. Connected even to the Armenian government in my area of expertise, again of no interest.

      There were A LOT of things that could have been done differently instead of what Pashinyan did, including not being a sad Western sponsored failed journo revolting your way to power without any idea of what comes next (the only profession that deserves more contempt these days other than politicians: “journalists”).

      The issue is really that everyone in this country who isn’t a garbage man develops this huge ego and thinks he is the one. Yes inchovem aveli vat? Provincial mentality and level of sophistication paired with arrogance is not a good mix, as we can see. Maybe the events of the last few months have knocked some sense in people. The nonsense you read and write on Facebook is not going to make a difference. Decisive action will make a difference and on the global scale (or even on the backwater scale in this case) that can be only accomplished by cooperation and foresight.

      And no, voting a PM who has an anti-Russian agenda and letting him execute on isn’t the type of cooperation I am referring to.

  7. A revolution is needed …. one of patriotic character and a return to worshiping our god almighty! Who’s the god of the Armenians now!? Money!!!! Money is our god and that is the root of all evil! Our motto should be «by any means necessary!!!! « asymmetric warfare because we are facing a much stronger military forces and are surrounded! We don’t have to face our enemy on the battlefield we can get at them on the streets of Baku and Constantinople!!! Cripple their economies, eliminate their leaders ….sabotage their sense of security! By any means necessary we must be victorious….we have no choice but to destroy our enemies!

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