By Hovannes Shoghikian
Azerbaijan repatriated on Friday an Armenian soldier who was taken prisoner by Azerbaijani forces last August after deserting from his army unit deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Private Hambartsum Asatrian was handed over to the Armenian military police in the westernmost Ijevan-Gazakh section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border with the help of officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Speaking to RFE/RL just moments after his repatriation, Asatrian said he mistakenly crossed into Azerbaijani-controlled territory north of Karabakh just days after starting his military service. He said at the same time that he wanted to escape to Russia and reunite with his parents living there.
Asatrian also claimed that he was tortured by Azerbaijani interrogators during his captivity. He said they wanted to force him to testify that he left his unity because of suffering systematic hazing at the hands of fellow Armenian soldiers.
Asatrian was due to undergo a medical examination at a nearby military hospital later in the day. The past experience of Armenian and Azerbaijani army conscripts taken prisoner in similar circumstances suggests that will be prosecuted and tried on charges of desertion.
Last May, a military court in Baku convicted Vusal Garajayev, an Azerbaijani soldier who had spent two weeks in Armenian captivity, of high treason and sentenced him to 11 years. Garajayev had been repatriated in December 2006 one day before another Azerbaijani serviceman, Samir Mamedov, surrendered to Armenian troops stationed in the Ijevan-Gazakh area.
According to the Armenian military, Mamedov claims to have been mistreated and humiliated by his comrades and does not want to return to Azerbaijan. Andranik Mkrtumian, an Armenian army colonel who was present at Asatrian’s handover, told RFE/RL that Mamedov will not be sent home against his will.