In all since 2000, 18 Armenian military servicemen have been captured by Azerbaijan. One of them was killed in custody, seven repatriated, eight transferred abroad and two are currently held. In the same time period 26 Azerbaijani servicemen have been captured, 22 of them repatriated and four of them transferred abroad.
In the same period of time, Azerbaijan had detained 27 Armenian civilians, three of whom died while in custody or shortly after. 17 Azerbaijani civilians detained in Armenia or Nagorno Karabakh since 2000 have all been successfully repatriated.
This article was originally published in the Armenian Reporter on October 8, 2014 and since updated.
Armenian POW beats odds to return from Azerbaijan captivity
By Emil Sanamyan
|Injighulyan greeted by parents at Yerevan airport|
WASHINGTON - Early on October 2, after more than a year as a prisoner in Azerbaijan, Hakob Injighulyan was welcomed by his joyous family and friends at the Yerevan airport, flying in from Romania via Moscow.
Injighulyan’s story is a rare happy ending for servicemen and civilians who end up on the other side of the Line of Contact between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Since 2008, Azerbaijan has effectively suspended its previous policy of returning or exchanging prisoners.
Born in 1991, Injighulyan studied at Echmiadzin’s Gevorgyan Seminary before he was drafted into the army in 2012. Overnight from August 7-8, 2013 Injighulyan was captured by Azerbaijani forces. While exact circumstances remain unclear, both the Armenian military and Injighulyan say he accidentally lost his way and now intends to complete the remaining nine months of his service. (Update: He has since reenlisted in the army, see a story by CivilNet).
Injighulyan also says he complied with the demands of his Azerbaijani captors and claimed that he voluntarily defected to Azerbaijan and did not want to return to Armenia. As a result the Red Cross and the UN facilitated his initial transfer to Romania.
This is only the latest example of the breakdown in the prisoner exchange mechanism between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in spite of official pledges to facilitate the return of prisoners, both military and civilian.
Since 2008, Azerbaijan has not returned a single Armenian serviceman to Armenia, with seven of them (all captured between 2008 and 2009) transferred to “third countries” instead and one (also in 2008) killed as he was captured. The treatment of civilians is hardly any better: out of twelve Armenians captured since 2008, three died in custody or soon after, and five (a family of two adults and three children) remain in Azerbaijan. (Update: the family had been finally handed over to Armenia in December.)
In all three fatal cases, Azerbaijani officials initially claimed that captured civilians, including a 77-year-old man with psychiatric issues detained earlier this year, were ‘saboteurs.’ The case of the family was different: in an apparent attempt to escape criminal prosecution in Armenia in January 2010, the father of the family drove his wife and kids through a border checkpoint into Nakhichevan. As a result, the family, including underage children, had been detained in Azerbaijan for over four and a half years.
The third-party transfers
The breakdown in military prisoner exchanges began in February 2007. At the time Azerbaijan, in apparent effort to stamp out desertions, began to charge its former POWs with treason. In June 2007, after former POWs Vusal Garajayev and Eldaniz Nuriyev received long prison sentences in Baku, another captured Azerbaijani army Sgt. Samir Mamedov, became the first serviceman from either side to request asylum in Armenia. He was subsequently transferred to Greece. Since then three more Azerbaijani POWs were transferred to unnamed European countries. At the same time, at least four Azerbaijani POWS were repatriated, either unilaterally or in exchange for captured Armenian civilians.
In apparent retaliation, beginning in 2008 Azerbaijani officials insisted on not returning any captured Armenian servicemen and transferring them to European countries as asylum seekers. Prior to their transfers, the POWs were interviewed by Azerbaijani television for propaganda effect.
These seven POWs include Paruir Simonyan, who was captured in May 2008 and transferred in March 2009; Hrant Markosian, Rafik Tevosian and Vardan Sarkisian (initially identified as Artur Vartevian), all captured in February 2009, were transferred in March 2011; Ohan Harutyunyan and Gevorg Tovmasyan, captured in May 2009, and Karen Harutyunyan captured in July 2009, were transferred in April 2012, after years as POWs in Azerbaijan. No other Armenian servicemen are known to have been captured until Injighulyan was in July 2013.
The transferred servicemen are formally wanted by Armenian authorities on charges of desertion from their military units or absence without leave, but circumstances of their capture and their true wishes remain unclear. In contrast with the case of Injighulyan, whose family publicly advocated for his return and remained in touch with the servicemen after he was transferred to Romania, families of other former POWs have remained largely silent.
Most recent developments with prisoners offered only a glimmer of hope that past prisoner exchange policies may be restored. After Armenian authorities quickly repatriated an Azerbaijani teenager who wondered into Karabakh in early September, Azerbaijan returned 53-year-old civilian Sargis Ananyan, who they initially claimed wanted to seek asylum.