By Ruzanna Stepanian
An Azerbaijani soldier who was taken prisoner by Karabakh Armenian forces earlier this month claims to have been badly mistreated by his commanders and fellow conscripts and does not want to be repatriated, according to the authorities in Stepanakert.
Vusal Garajayev reportedly crossed into the Armenian-controlled territory east of Karabakh on December 7. The International Committee of the Red Cross has since been trying to negotiate his repatriation.
In the words of Arkady Ghukasian, president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the 19-year-old “consciously crossed” the heavily fortified frontline to escape systematic hazing at the hands of other Azerbaijani servicemen.
“According to his accounts registered by representatives of the Red Cross, he was regularly and continuously beaten by fellow soldiers,” Ghukasian told reporters in Yerevan.
“That soldier has been placed at the disposal of the International Committee of the Red Cross which is holding negotiations with relevant structures in Azerbaijan,” he said. “At least until now, he has said that he does not want to return home because he does not want to again face the people who beat him and because he fears government retribution.”
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry dismissed this version of events as “Armenian propaganda,” saying that Garajayev accidentally strayed into Armenian-controlled territory. “Vusal Garajayev will be repatriated to Azerbaijan,” a ministry spokesman told the Day.az news service.
Ghukasian made it clear, however, that the conscript will not be sent back to Azerbaijan against his will. “That said, I am sure the Azerbaijani authorities will put pressure on his parents and relatives, and they will eventually convince him to come back,” he said. “And I assure you that this lad will face lengthy imprisonment in Azerbaijan.”
Prisoner-taking happens regularly along the Armenian-Azerbaijan line of contact in circumstances that are not always trivial. In some cases, soldiers were clearly not captured by force. In January 2005, for example, four Armenian soldiers who spent several months in Azerbaijani captivity were arrested and prosecuted immediately their repatriation. Military prosecutors said that they willingly crossed into Azerbaijani territory and “came into contact with the enemy.”
A few weeks later, three Azerbaijani soldiers crossed the frontline in similar circumstances. They were subsequently repatriated and reportedly faced prosecution in Azerbaijan.
(Photolur photo: Arkady Ghukasian.)