“It was torturous”: Armenian POWs testify to torture in Azerbaijani captivity

Armenian Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan

A new report has revealed shocking details regarding the systematic torture and degrading treatment of Armenian prisoners of war and civilian captives held in Azerbaijan.

The report, published last week by the Office of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia and the Yerevan-based International and Comparative Law Center (ICLaw) with the support of the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights (ALC) in Washington, D.C., compiles evidence gathered through interviews with 40 repatriated POWs and 10 civilian captives and analysis of video recordings.

All 50 survivors testified to physical torture and abuse and deprivation of adequate food, water, sleep and medical attention, with no distinction between the treatment of detained combatants and civilians by Azerbaijani officials and military personnel.

“With the publication of this report, ALC, in collaboration with the Human Rights Defender and ICLaw, seeks to methodically present the inhumane treatment of Armenian POWs to highlight Azerbaijan’s continued violation of international human rights law and the state-administered policy of dehumanizing Armenian lives,” said Kenneth V. Hachikian, chair of the ALC. 

According to the report, Armenian captives were transported between military police confinements, the State Security Service and a pre-trial detention facility in the settlement of Kurdakhany in Baku, in violation of Geneva Convention III mandating that the captor country transfer POWs to a permanent prisoner camp as soon as possible. Armenian captives were regularly subjected to physical torture at each of these locations. Azerbaijani prison guards deployed belts, screwdrivers, gun butts, metal chains and batons to beat the captives, sometimes multiple times a day. One repatriated POW testified that three guards entered his cell every five minutes to beat him to the point of incapacitation. 

“Azerbaijani guards entered our cells and demanded us to shout ‘Karabakh is Azerbaijan!’ Whether we were compliant or not, we were subjected to brutal beatings, both in Military Police and in the State Security. There were other captives with me in the cell; three of them were tortured during interrogations using electroshock.”

Under the Geneva Convention III, the captor country must refrain from subjecting POWs to violence, physical harm, reprisal, intimidation or discrimination. 

Armenian POWs were not supplied with sufficient food and water, the provision of which was often accompanied by torture and habilitation. Several POWs testified that prison guards would throw away whatever food they could not eat within 10 seconds. Another testified that guards forced him to eat food off the ground. One POW received a severe rash due to the poor quality of drinking water. 

“I was kept alone for the last four months. It was torturous. They would give us food and drinks in a way that when they poured it, most of it would spill, and I had to get the leftovers. They broke the cigarettes, then gave them to us. As soon as they opened the cell door, I had to stand up and say ‘Karabakh is Azerbaijan.’ Besides that, they would repeat [Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev’s statement about Artsakh is Azerbaijani and would try to make us repeat whatever they were saying.”

POWs were also intentionally deprived of sleep. Some were handcuffed to radiators or heating rods while others were forced to remain standing or sitting for days at a time. In the winter, prison guards poured buckets of freezing water on captives and opened the windows at nighttime, forcing captives to sleep on the cold prison floor.

“In their military police area, we were connected to the heating radiators. We slept on the floor for the first few days. We did not get food or water for a few days. I asked them for water, and they splashed cold water on me from a bucket. All my clothes got wet, and they opened the window and made me lie down on the floor so that I would freeze in the cold. They beat us again. I lost consciousness two times. We became psychologically affected there, because they were beating [redacted] in the cell right next to me and we could hear his torture.”

Prison guards consistently refused to provide POWs with medical treatment for injuries inflicted in combat or captivity. As a consequence, many POWs developed infections or more severe injuries. One POW who was sent to a hospital was deprived of food for 10 days. Azerbaijani soldiers lay next to him in his hospital bed while spitting on him and filming their actions. 

Under Geneva Convention III, the captor country must provide POWs with sufficient food, water, clothing and medical attention when necessary. 

The report exposes that Azerbaijani prison guards extract forced confessions from POWs through coercion and threats of torture. Several prisoners were forced to sign statements written in the Azerbaijani language, without the presence of a translator or lawyer. One repatriated POW, who was sentenced to four months imprisonment, testified that he was forced to sign several unknown documents under threats of violence. While he was provided with counsel at a legal hearing, the proceedings were conducted in the Azerbaijani language. 

More than five dozen Armenian POWs are standing trial or have been convicted in the Baku Grave Crimes Court on charges of terrorism, illegal acquisition and possession of weapons and explosives, formation of illegal armed units and illegal crossing of the state border. The Human Rights Defender, ICLaw and the ALC have denounced these trials as a sham, as the rights of POWs are wholly deprived. 

Several POWs testified that soldiers who had additionally served during the Four-Day War in April 2016 or the First Artsakh War were treated with exceptional brutality. One POW, who was beaten so severely that he could not walk for 21 days, was told by the perpetrators that he was being punished for his role in the Armenian Armed Forces. 

Geneva Convention III prohibits measures of reprisal against POWs. 

While captured civilians are protected persons under international law, prison guards did not differentiate between their treatment of civilians and soldiers, comparably subjecting each group to physical abuse and denial of food, water, sleep and medical attention. One civilian was held in solitary confinement with no access to food or water for 12 hours and beaten if he refused to sing the Azerbaijani national anthem. 

Under the Geneva Convention, it is impermissible to submit protected persons to violence or threats or to willfully cause serious injury to their body or health. An individual ceases their status of a protected person if the captor country verifies that the individual engaged in activities hostile to the security of the state. However, Armenian civilian captives were never presented with any formal charges that would prove their involvement in military action. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) periodically visited the POWs and civilian captives. According to eyewitness testimony, captives were moved to different holding cells during these visits in order to conceal their living conditions. 

“Before [ICRC] visits, the guards told us we were not allowed to disclose the degrading treatment and we would have to lie and tell the Red Cross we were being treated well. The Red Cross visited me for the first time on February 1. They handcuffed us. The [ICRC] gave us cigarettes and sweets, and the Azeris confiscated the cigarettes and took out the filters and started giving us one or two a day.”

The report also exposes the brutal treatment and murder of Armenian soldiers captured in Kovsakan on October 21, 2020 during the 44-day war. The day after the city was seized by Azeri forces, 61 Armenian service members were deployed to Kovsakan and subsequently ambushed. While 15 soldiers were killed during the ambush by the Azerbaijani military, 20 soldiers escaped, and at least 20 others were captured and subsequently murdered, as verified by analysis of video evidence. The video evidence depicts the corpses of Armenian soldiers, sometimes mutilated, that have been dragged by vehicles along dusty roads. Five of the captured soldiers have been repatriated, whereas the remainder are yet to be accounted for. 

ICLaw, in collaboration with the ALC, has submitted requests for interim measures, or urgent measures to protect individuals at imminent risk of irreparable harm, to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of 123 Armenian captives, 111 of which have been granted. To date a total of 104 POWs and civilian captives have been repatriated to Armenia. While Azerbaijan only acknowledges the continued detention of 45 individuals, an estimated 200 POWs and other captives remain in Azerbaijan. 

“Azerbaijan’s continued systematic and intentional torture of Armenians in captivity can no longer be ignored or treated with kid-gloves,” said Hachikian. “The international community and human rights organizations must pressure dictator Aliyev to release all Armenian POWs immediately.” 

ICLaw attorneys Artak Zeynalyan and Siranush Sahakyan, Armenian Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan and Artsakh Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan present the findings of the latest report on the inhuman treatment of Armenian captives
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.
Lillian Avedian


Graduate student @GloJo_NYU and @nyukevo. Staff writer @armenianweekly. Editorial intern @DAWN_Journal.
@LeezaYeretzian I'm so sorry, Leeza. This type of community pressure regarding issues that should be entirely personal is unacceptable. - 6 days ago


    • The worldwide Armenian Community has seen more than 3 decades of this kind of abusive treatment from Azerbaijan; but, such grim genocidal activity fail to stir up serious interest from the International Community, at large, neither do they comprehend the evil designs of Azerbaijans. Even the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is showing little interest for holding Azerbaijan accountable for its evil designs and crimes against humanity. Azerbaijan’s oil wealth and Turkey’s NATO Statue give them an advantage in the information war, with their hired lobby interests and internet spammers.

  1. You know why this happens? because they can and there is no consequences to their barbaric nature. The Incompetent loser PM in charge is so out of his league and such a useless tool that no one will care or shed a tear. He single handily destroyed the military and was a major reason why the war was so mismanaged and its chaotic aftermath. He recently even made an excuse in parliament that these “lands weren’t Armenian anyway”.. What a traitor POS that needs to hang. Again the ONLY OPTION is complete Armenian unity being one Armenia, Artsakh and Diaspora all working together to create the most potent Armenian nation, army, intelligence, economy that is capable to instill justice and rid the Turkish/Azeri Asian invading parasite rapist thief murdering sadistic animal off the face of this earth. Understand that they wont stop. They wont reason. Its Turkish nature. This will continue.

    • So we’ll put Joe!
      You’re absolutely right. Unfortunately we are our own worst enemy. We have the knowledge, the finances, the courage and wisdom to reorganise and create a strong nation, alas we lack the most vital asset, that is: UNITY. Unless there’s a drastic change to our attitude -and very quickly- we are doomed to lose everything!

    • [He single handily destroyed the military and was a major reason why the war was so mismanaged and its chaotic aftermath]

      How exactly did Pashinyan destroy the military? The military was already destroyed by decades of corruption and stealing during Serzh and Kocharyan. Listen to Samvel Babayan’s intetviews on youtube. He is a hero of the first war and knows a thing or two. The officers wouldn’t follow orders. Many were not properly trained — they had barely showed up at trainings over the years. The money that was supposed to be spent on weapons was stolen. At least Pashinyan mad sure the soldiers were fed.

      And Nikol was right: these lands (the 7 regions) wern’t Armenian. Serzh, Kocharyan, and Levon had promised to return them to Baku. They just kept lying to the people over the years to promote fake “patriotism” so they themaelves could stay in power and keep plundering the country. Armenia recognized these lands as part of Azerbaijan in the 1991 Alma Ata protocols. In fact, both Armenia and Azerbaijan recognized their Soviet borders as international boundary:

  2. The reason of all this is that Pashinian is a coward and an idiot who wasn t smart enough to deal with Aliev. The other reasons are the 3 past presidents of Armenia they were only busy to plunder and steal from the country then from the people and lastly from the army ,destroying the security of Armenia by destroying the army instead of bringing it up to the modern time army. The Azeris were much smarter then our stupid Armenian government who didn t have any Patriotism and could have cared less about the country beside filling up their pockets ,selfish bastards.

    • I do agree with you for the most part! But Aliyev is one of the most corrupted dictators ever! He’s been stealing his nations wealth for over 30 years after his father. They literally would even starve they’re soldiers! Turkey is the real winner! They took over and provided powerful drones, soldiers, and thousands of mercenaries from Syria. On YouTube search: Why is Azerbaijan Getting Poorer and other investigative documentaries exposing Aliyev’s criminal dictatorship.

  3. These findings should be presented to the Court of Human Rights, the UN Assembly and Amnesty International immediately, with full visibility in prominent newspapers for maximum effect and leverage to release our fellow Armenians as soon as possible. We should also utilize the help of friendly politicians in every country to full effect to bring about pressure at government level. The Azeris have got away with it because no powerful nation has pressurized them so far. The Armenian nation, no matter where, needs to unite to speak with one voice and act with one single purpose, that is, a strong and self sufficient United Armenia.

  4. The Murdoch papers will not publish this. Murdoch has nothing to gain. The neo-conservative hard right leadership of many major countries will have no interest in poking their noses in. Armenia has no strategic importance as an ally. Intervention of any real kind is an act of mercy for Armenia, and if Geneva 111 is to have any force, the UN should send forces into Azerbaijan and teach them a lesson. I am sure we would love to see that. But Turkey, a NATO ally of many of the great nations will object and diplomacy will made too complicated. Having written that, doing the right thing always seems to be hard. But it is time. As an Australian, I would like to see my government acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. But they won’t. Not with the current pack of corrupt neo-cons in charge. As I have said: nothing in it for them and a lot to lose; namely, the annual Anzac Day commemoration at Ariburnu, a loss that would outrage the conservative forces in Australia and bring down a government. To me, it is complicated, but it is time the UN grew a pair and started acting, rather than just hand-wringing. What Azerbaijan is doing is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. It deserves punishment.


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