By Emil Danielyan
An Azerbaijani soldier who spent two weeks in Armenian captivity last December has been sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of high treason and desertion, reports from Baku said on Wednesday.
Vusal Garajayev was taken prisoner by Karabakh Armenian forces after crossing the Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact east of Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to officials in Stepanakert, he willingly surrendered himself to escape systematic hazing at the hands of fellow Azerbaijani servicemen. Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian said on December 18 that the 19-year-old conscript is reluctant to be repatriated for fear of government retribution.
“But I am sure the Azerbaijani authorities will put pressure on his parents and relatives, and they will eventually convince him to come back. And I assure you that this lad will face lengthy imprisonment in Azerbaijan,” Ghukasian told reporters at the time.
Garajayev was handed back to Azerbaijani side with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross one week later. He was immediately detained and prosecuted, despite the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry’s earlier claims that he had accidentally strayed into Armenian-controlled territory.
The Azerbaijani media reported that a military court in Baku convicted the soldier of high treason, desertion, and violation of army regulations. No further details were reported.
Garajayev was repatriated one day before another Azerbaijani soldier, Samir Mamedov, was taken prisoner in the westernmost section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border under similar circumstances. The Defense Ministry in Yerevan said he crossed the fortified border and surrendered to Armenian troops deployed there because of being mistreated and humiliated by his comrades.
Mamedov is still being kept in Armenia, apparently unwilling to return to Azerbaijan and face possible prosecution at home. Armenian and Red Cross officials have said he wants to be granted political asylum in a European country.