More than a dozen Armenian prisoners of war captured during the latest border attacks by Azerbaijan were repatriated on October 4.
Armenia’s Ministry of Defense identified the 17 Armenian POWs and said they were returned by Azerbaijan “with the mediation of the USA.”
The soldiers were captured during a large-scale attack launched by Azerbaijan within Armenia’s eastern border between September 13-14.
Armen Grigoryan, the Secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, and Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan’s President, agreed to return the POWs by September 30 during their meeting with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington on September 17, according to Grigoryan. One day prior to the soldiers’ release, Grigoryan said that Azerbaijan had not upheld its pledge to release the POWs.
“Let me make it clear that, once again, Azerbaijan has not fulfilled its commitments,” Grigoryan said.
The soldiers’ release follows the online publication of footage depicting the execution of Armenian POWs by Azerbaijani forces.
Armenian Human Rights Defender Kristine Grigoryan confirmed the authenticity of a video showing Azerbaijani soldiers firing on a group of unarmed Armenian soldiers. She said that the execution took place shortly after the mid-September border attacks.
“This fact is confirmed by a combination of examining the terrain, similar video materials in our and other databases, as well as by a complex combination of weather conditions, uniforms of military personnel, the conversation of Azerbaijani servicemen, and other parameters,” Grigoryan said on October 2.
The Azerbaijani Prosecutor’s Office stated on Sunday that the footage is being “fully and thoroughly investigated.”
Graphic footage depicting the brutal murder and mutilation of Armenian female soldiers captured during the mid-September attacks also circulated on social media last month. One video shows a dismembered soldier with a severed finger in her mouth.
Grigoryan’s office said in a detailed report published on Wednesday that the widespread dissemination of such videos on social media aims to intimidate and inflict additional suffering on the Armenian public.
The report also says that the torture of Armenian POWs “could not have been committed without the instruction or, at least, the knowledge and acquiescence of the [Azerbaijani] military leadership.”
The videos were widely disseminated online to rampant “praise and encouragement” by Azerbaijani social media users, whose reactions “included expressions of undisguised excitement” and “calls for violence.”
“Often, the publication of bodies and body parts of dead servicemen was accompanied by the entries ‘the best Armenian is a dead Armenian,’” the publication states.
The report also details how Azerbaijani soldiers contact the relatives of deceased Armenian soldiers and send them insulting text messages, screenshots of which they then publish on Azerbaijani Telegram channels.
“Particularly disturbing is the creation of stickers depicting the tortured bodies and body parts of Armenian servicepersons and civilians on the Telegram social network, which were uploaded and used by tens of thousands of Azerbaijani users,” the report says.
In addition to sharing videos of the torture of Armenian servicewomen, Azerbaijani social media users also shared pictures of other Armenian women along with calls for violence against them, including sexual violence and mutilation. Many of these posts mention cutting off the fingers of Armenian women and putting them in their mouths.
The footage has received criticism from some opposition voices within Azerbaijani society.
Azerbaijani peace activist Giyas Ibrahimov called the footage evidence of an “unequivocal crime.”
“Aliyev knows very well that the day the war and the conflict ends, his power will also end. Therefore, he will fuel the hatred and the conflict. The Azerbaijani army has already become a criminal tool used by Aliyev to maintain his slavery regime,” Ibrahimov wrote on Facebook on October 2.
Baku-based analyst Anar Mammadli criticized the positive reception to the videos on social media.
“If most Azerbaijanis applaud their countrymen precisely because they killed an Armenian, this indicates our mental trauma and moral degradation as a society,” Mammadli wrote on Facebook on October 2. “In this way, the society becomes complicit in the crime committed on the basis of ethnic hatred.”
The videos have been widely condemned by Western countries.
In unusually harsh language, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar called for an investigation into the footage.
“Another horrible video has emerged of Armenian prisoners of war apparently being executed,” Klaar tweeted on October 2. “If this video is proven to be authentic, then this is a war crime that needs to be investigated and the perpetrators punished.”
Four hours later, Klaar tweeted that he had “been sent several videos apparently showing war crimes committed against Azerbaijanis.” There have been no reports of Armenian war crimes committed during the latest fighting.
“The conflict has left deep wounds on both sides and to heal accountability is needed,” Klaar said.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the United States is “deeply disturbed by recent reports of Azerbaijani soldiers executing unarmed Armenian prisoners” and called for a “full and impartial investigation” on October 3.
Russia did not explicitly assign blame to Azerbaijan in its response. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova urged “Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities” to analyze the videos “to figure out if there are any signs of war crimes.”
“In case these facts are confirmed, all those responsible should be called to account and face the full force of the law,” Zakharova said on October 3.