Armenian POWs stand trial

Armenian POWs await trial in Baku (Photo: Azertac News Agency, June 23)

Dozens of the estimated 200 Armenian prisoners of war held captive in Azerbaijan seven months after the end of the 2020 Artsakh War are facing trial on charges of terrorism.  

Fourteen Armenian POWs participated in their second court hearing on Tuesday. They have been charged in the Baku Grave Crimes Court with terrorism, illegal acquisition and possession of weapons and explosives, formation of illegal armed units and illegal crossing of the state border. Judge Afghan Hajiyev, who announced their indictment, declared that if they are found guilty they face up to 20 more years in prison or life imprisonment. 

According to a joint press release from the State Security Service and Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan, a criminal case has been submitted to the court regarding 13 more POWs. 

These 27 prisoners were captured in an Azerbaijani incursion near the Khtsabert and Hin Tagher communities in the southern region of Hadrut in Artsakh on December 11. The Russian peacekeeping contingent in Artsakh confirmed that the attack represented the first resumption of military hostilities since the signing of the end-of-war agreement on November 9. The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly justified its capture and detention of 62 Armenian soldiers in Hadrut as an anti-terror operation, claiming that the soldiers had illegally crossed the state border into Azerbaijani territory. While Hin Tagher and Khtsabert remained under Armenian jurisdiction as of November 9, the two villages came under Azerbaijani control subsequent to the December 11 incursion. 

Earlier this month, Lebanese-Armenian Viken Euljekjian was sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges. Euljekjian, a volunteer in the war, was captured alongside his fiancée Maral Najarian en route to Shushi on November 10. According to Najarian, the couple was traveling to their temporary lodging in Shushi to collect their belongings and return to Yerevan, unaware that in the past two days Shushi had been captured by the Azerbaijani military. 

The Ombudsman of Armenia Arman Tatoyan has criticized these trials as a fraudulent attempt to legitimize the continued detention of POWs, illegal under international law. “The ‘confessional testimony’ of the POWs forms the basis of the trial under conditions in which the prisoners’ lives are under threat daily,” he wrote on June 26. “Under such circumstances it is impossible to discuss a fair trial or any other rights.” 

Two days earlier Tatoyan’s office submitted a video recording of a conversation between the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the First Lady of Turkey Emine Erdogan to several senior officials at the European Union as “irrefutable evidence that the Azerbaijani authorities illegally keep all Armenian captives as hostages for use in political bargaining.” In the video, which circulated online in June, Erdogan urges Aliyev to return the POWs to Armenia “portion by portion” in exchange for minefield maps of the captured regions of Artsakh. “If we get all the minefield maps we will have a great advantage, because it may take 10 years to clear these areas,” Aliyev admits. 

Since the end of the war, the government of Azerbaijan has continually publicly demanded that Armenia provide maps that detail the locations of the landmines it laid during the war so that it may remove unexploded ordnances. According to Azerbaijani media, 20 Azerbaijani civilians have been killed and 29 injured in landmine accidents in the regions that passed under Azerbaijani control at the end of the war. Most recently two Azerbaijani journalists and one local official were killed in an anti-tank mine explosion at the start of June in the Kelbajar district. 

The maps in question refer to the landmines laid during the 44-day war in the fall. Since 2000, international demining organization HALO Trust has cleared 500 minefields laid in Artsakh during the first Artsakh War in the early 1990s. In a postwar report published last year, HALO Trust related that while “reports suggest there has been new use of anti-vehicle mines during the conflict…the extent of landmine contamination from the current conflict is unknown.” 

Despite calls from the governments of Azerbaijan and Russia and the European Parliament for the return of these maps, Armenian officials have repeatedly denied their existence. In interviews with the International Crisis Group, officials from Yerevan and Stepanakert stated that they have “no such maps.” On April 6 spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Anna Naghdalyan called the issue a “fake agenda” fabricated by Azerbaijan to justify its non-compliance with international calls for the repatriation of POWs. 

“You need to understand that precise maps don’t exist. Everything was ‘sown’ chaotically,” Armenian journalist Yuri Manvelyan said in a June 6 interview. “Even if the authorities in Yerevan, or someone in Stepanakert, or Russian peacekeepers, say that they have precise maps of minefields, it’s not true. That is, they physically don’t exist.”

However, PM Nikol Pashinyan confirmed the government’s possession of landmine maps after it provided Azerbaijan with maps of 97,000 unexploded ordnances in the Aghdam region in exchange for 15 Armenian POWs in a deal negotiated on June 12 by the governments of Georgia and the US, the European Union and the OSCE. “We have not exchanged the maps for POWs, but rather we took a step for a step, and we are prepared to take another step for another step,” Pashinyan told supporters during a June 13 campaign rally. “Seeing that Azerbaijan halted the return of POWs, we also halted the return of maps. If the return of POWs was not halted, there would not be so many casualties on landmines in Azerbaijan.” 

Meanwhile protests organized by the relatives of POWs awaiting news of their brothers, husbands and sons continue in Yerevan. This week, a group staged a series of sit-in protests in front of the government building to demand increased legal action against Azerbaijan and international intervention to repatriate their relatives. 

“He cannot say anything concrete,” a father told reporters after a meeting with PM Pashinyan. “‘Wait, be patient.’ But I have run out of patience.” 

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.

13 Comments

  1. No blame on Azerbaijan from me. All blame is on Armenia and its idiotic “Prime Minister”. Pahinoghloo is the biggest moron in Armenia’s history. I thank God every day that I am not a citizen of Armenia, because an idiot who has power tells a lot about a large number of people that live there. I used to think Armenia needs to get populated a lot more, now I think Armenia needs to be de-populated by another 50%. The best have left the country, it’s also time to send out the garbage.

    Imagine Azeris violating the borders of Armenia recently and Pashinoghloo or the idiots under his command missing that opportunity to take their own POWs.

    • Your words are not helpful in any way. Depopulate Armenia? Go Zartir Lao yourself somewhere else. Your unhelpful, immature, foolish statements can only continue to limit our hopes to the cradle.

    • Dear Lao,
      This has nothing to do with Nicole or any other person who would become PM of Armenia. This war was an “arranged war” by a world order, including the West, Turkey, and Russia. Armenia must learn this ugly war and acts like a civilized country. The corrupt oily dictator is mad and out of control. We need to stay calm, level-headed, and practical nation.

    • @Joy, Who exactly has said anything ‘helpful’ after all the treason that Armenians have faced, and are now in a state of emergency, but do not know it? Armenia’s imbecile “leaders” have not uttered one ‘helpful’ idea for the past 30 years, and you expect me, a random commenter at this site to “be helpful”? Sorry, I have higher standards than that, because I do not believe in helping and enabling incompetence and stupidity.

      @GB, you are one of the few commenters that I have always liked, because you show a genuine interest in our nation and culture, you are right there are higher forces at play here, but the problem is, we got lied to, deceived and ripped off for the past 30 years, and the fake war proved it all. People in Armenia have to answer for that, and those people happen to be the people in power in Armenia currently.

      @Reader. That’s correct, no blame on Azerbaijan from me. You want to know why? Because Azerbaijan is doing exactly what it was designed to do, just like a skunk stinks and a snake bites, Azerbaijan was designed to destroy all things Armenian. If Armenians believe, both in the diaspora and Armenia, that it is “OK” to have such a neighbor because some other powers (who only want stable oil flow) say so, then Armenia actually deserves its fate of getting destroyed. Armenia has had 30 years to prepare, and all we got was an idiotic third-rate “journalist” who screams like a rat and calls himself “Prime Minister”. Fortunately Armenia is not all lost: more than 50% of the people who refrained from voting understand all of the above very well, and that is the only hope Armenia has.

    • Stopp Trolling nonsense. What happened the last 30yrs? Who prepared the Armenian Nation, Military for this day and spend billions in a military industrial complex?? Ohhhhh…..the oligarchs only rubbed the country and trust in Russia. We saw in the war 2016 what happened.

  2. This farce reflects the utter failure of the international organizations
    responsible for civility in our world. A rouge nation such as Azerbaijan can invade a peaceful nation, import jihadists, utilize illegal weapons, breach the borders of Armenia ……..AND put our illegally held POWs on trial!!! Disgraceful and shameful.

    • No it doesn’t. What international community should come to our rescue? Why do you believe and give your power to some third country that can care less. Look square in the mirror. ITS OUR OWN FAULT. The losers that WE ALL ARE is a direct reflection of the past thieves and robbers that looted Armenia and caused massive emigration, to the current useless impotent traitor who released Azeri murderers in exchange for now having our kids being tried in Azeri kangaroo courts. That moron now needs to lick and be indebted to POS Russian boots just so they don’t take the rest of Armenia. What a piece of trash. Its our own fault..

    • Not to mention the seduction and corruption of UNESCO by the same dictator.

  3. InVADERS from Mongolia are now placing indigenous Armenian people with 5000 years of living on the land and planting all the vegetation the inVaders now eat…(apples, grapes, apricots, pomegranates, plums, hazelnuts) building all their architecture (Sinan, Balyan), codifying their language (Hagop Martayan and Armenian linguists in his group) on trial for attempting to protect their homeland from inVADERS. I have seen it all, now. Seen it all.

  4. “If the return of POWs was not halted, there would not be so many casualties on landmines in Azerbaijan.” meaning hes calling Armenian lands where mines were installed for a buffer as Azerbajan.. What a POS this moron is. Useless traitor.

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