Azerbaijan and prisoners of war

I must warn you, this article is going to contain graphic depictions of alleged war crimes. I do not enjoy doing this, but I do believe this story has to be told.

Yesterday Azerbaijani social media outlets started circulating two videos “to boost morale”. Later MOD of Azerbaijan dismissed those videos and started taking them down. The videos were circulated on Twitter, Instagram, Telegram and are not hard to come by. I shall not place the videos here for ethical reasons.

Those videos are allegedly shot on a cellphone in Hadrut region — the south-eastern front of Artsakh war. In the first video, two people in military uniform surrender at gunpoint to armed men in AZ army military uniform, speaking Azerbaijani (as I do not know the language, I cannot translate what they are speaking).

These screen captures from the first video clearly show that the people in question have surrendered to the authority of the Azerbaijani-speaking armed men.

In the second video, these two people are sitting, draped in Armenian flags. Orders sound in Azerbaijani. Long machine gun fire. They fall, silent. And it is over.

Essentially, the first video shows two people surrendering to receive the status of prisoners of war, after which they are humiliated and executed.

I do not want to burden you with my personal feelings about the footage — suffice to say I was shaken. Whether you see this as a humane treatment — I leave it to your conscience. So what does this mean in the framework of international law?

The status of POWs and the rules protecting them were first detailed in the 1929 Geneva Convention, and further refined in the third Geneva Convention of 1949, and in the Additional Protocol I of 1977.

The status of POW applies to international conflicts (Armenia and Azerbaijan, in this case — the status of Artsakh as a belligerent side is problematic in the context of it not being an internationally recognized state).

POWs cannot be persecuted for taking part in hostilities — their detention is not a means of punishment, but a means of removing them from the armed conflict, and should be returned to the corresponding side after the end of hostilities.

These are serious allegations weighed against Azerbaijan and are currently being investigated by international authorities, and we might see Azerbaijani forces persecuted for breach of international conventions and agreements that they are signatories on.

But there’s a second side to this. Whether there will be a ruling against Azerbaijan or not, this changes the mentality and rules of engagement for Armenian soldiers. If they perceive Azerbaijan as unable to guarantee the status of POW in the current conflict… In the April conflict of 2016, after the beheading of serviceman Kyaram Sloyan, amid the retreat of Armenian forces, an Armenian officer lured the Azerbaijani soldiers into the trenches and blew himself up with them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this in the coming days — soldiers preferring to kill enemies in suicide attacks instead of surrendering.

Violence breeds more violence. Crimes, left unprosecuted, breed retribution.

Which is why the international community has to intervene and enforce the application of International Humanitarian Law and other international laws and conventions, to ensure that the current war does not degenerate into a war of extermination.

And footage like this, and previous war crimes, and the Askeran, Sumgayit, Kirovabad and Baku pogroms are why the people of Artsakh will not accept Artsakh as a part of Azerbaijan, as long as they stand.

So when you, in your naiveté, ask yourselves “can’t they just get along?”, remember — at this point in time, there is no effective framework addressing the problems causing this conflict and ensuring peaceful coexistence in existence or effect.

This war will take many more lives and by the time this is over, you’ll have a lot more horrifying footage like this. And the international community that has refused to enforce the laws they themselves warranted, shall have their share of blood on their hands.

Where do you draw a line and say — “I shall not cross it”? Where is that line for you as a people, as a country, as an individual?

Bellingcat has an analysis of the events in the video.

Also analyzed by @DFRLab, available here.

The criminal case started by Prosecutor General’s office of Artsakh has identified the executed people as resident of Hadrut B. H. (born in 1947) and resident of Tyak (old name — Dağdöşü) village of Hadrut region Y. A. (born in 1995).



Writer and columnist based in Yerevan, Armenia

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