Azerbaijani soldier charged with murdering Armenian civilian

An Azerbaijani soldier who crossed the border into Armenia has been charged with murdering a civilian. 

Huseyn Akhundov was detained on April 13 near the village Achanan in the southernmost Syunik province of Armenia. On April 18, the Office of Armenia’s Prosecutor General announced that Akhundov has been charged with “murder motivated by national hatred, intolerance and enmity.” 

The Prosecutor General’s office said that Akhundov murdered 56-year-old Hayrapet Meliksetyan, a security guard at the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine in the town of Kapan in Syunik. Meliksetyan was found shot to death on April 12. 

Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (Photo: RA Prime Minister)

Armenia’s Ministry of Defense previously reported that an Azerbaijani soldier had been arrested in Armenia on April 10. Residents of Ashotavan in Syunik told reporters they had found the soldier, Agshin Babirov, and turned him in to the police. Three days later, the Defense Ministry said that a second soldier, Akhundov, had been detained. The Defense Ministry said that both soldiers had crossed into Armenia together from the Azerbaijani exclave Nakhichevan. 

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the two soldiers “went missing due to limited visibility due to bad weather conditions.”

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did not comment on the soldiers’ presence in Armenia until April 12. PM Pashinyan told the National Assembly that the first soldier detained on April 10 had fled from the Azerbaijani army. “A soldier of the Azerbaijani army simply ran away from their positions with his comrade due to pressure and humiliation from other comrades,” Pashinyan said. 

Babirov has been charged with illegally crossing and transporting weapons across the state border. Both soldiers are being held at the police department in Kapan. 

Meliksetyan was shot dead by Akhundov, according to the Prosecutor General’s office. Akhundov stole Meliksetyan’s phone and tried to escape in his car. When he couldn’t get the car to start, he began walking along the highway with the intention to cross the border into Iran. Locals found him near Achanan village and reported him to the police. 

Two videos of Akhundov have circulated on social media. In one video, Akhundov says he had “beheaded” Armenians and “shed Armenian blood.” “We are not traitors, and we hope to successfully return to Azerbaijan,” Akhundov says. The video was filmed on Meliksetyan’s phone, according to the Prosecutor General’s office. 

The second video shows Akhundov tied up on the ground and kicked in the face. The soldier appears bloody and bruised. The video reportedly depicts Akhundov being beaten by Armenian residents of Syunik. 

The Prosecutor General’s Office said it has sent reports of injuries on Akhundov’s body to the Investigative Committee.

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said that it has informed the “relevant international organizations” about the “cases of physical torture and inhuman treatment” against Akhundov, which it called “another example of violence on ethnic grounds by Armenia.” 

“Relevant international organizations should investigate the facts of violence committed by Armenia over the past 30 years against Azerbaijani prisoners of war and civilian prisoners, 3,890 missing Azerbaijanis, and give an adequate assessment,” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. 

The US Embassy in Baku said that the United States is “disturbed by a video appearing to depict violence against an Azerbaijani soldier in Armenia.” “We urge Azerbaijan and Armenia to resolve all outstanding issues through peaceful negotiations,” the US Embassy said

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which is part of the OSCE, called the footage “deeply troubling” and said the “incident should be immediately investigated, helping to ensure accountability for those responsible in line with international law standards.”

The video has also sparked criticism within Armenia. 

Andranik Shirinyan, project coordinator at the democracy watchdog Freedom House, said that the “mistreatment of the captured Azerbaijani soldier by locals must be addressed.” 

“The recent sabotage infiltration by the Azerbaijani soldiers into Armenia has resulted in a serious violation of international law and human rights. The alleged killing of a security guard and beheadings by the Azerbaijani soldiers are heinous acts that cannot be condoned,” Shirinyan tweeted. “While it’s important to hold those responsible for the infiltration and murder accountable, it’s equally important to recognize that violence toward prisoners is never justified.”

Daniel Ioannisyan, programs coordinator at the Union of Informed Citizens, said that Azerbaijani soldiers should be treated humanely so that Armenia can demand similarly humane treatment for its prisoners of war held in Azerbaijan. “Beating a bound and already neutralized POW brings neither honor nor benefit,” Ioannisyan said

Several years after the end of the 2020 Artsakh War, Armenian lawyers estimate that 200 Armenian POWs and civilian captives are held in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan only acknowledges the continued detention of several dozen prisoners. 

Human rights investigations show that Armenian POWs are subjected to systemic torture and degrading treatment. Armenian lawyers have 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 POWs, 111 of which have been granted. 

Armenian MP and chair of the parliamentary committee on foreign relations Sargis Khandanyan told reporters that Armenia has no intention to swap the two detained Azerbaijani soldiers in exchange for Armenian POWs held in Azerbaijan. “Armenia is not planning to make any concessions on this matter,” Khandanyan said

Human Rights Defender of Armenia Anahit Manasyan visited the Azerbaijani soldiers held in Kapan on April 16. Manasyan said that “complaints about torture, and other forms of ill-treatment, including psychological pressure, committed by state bodies and officials, were not received” during private interviews. She also said that the soldiers are “provided with proper detention conditions, including constant drinking water, food, and hygiene items. They are also provided with medical assistance and service when necessary.”

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.

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