By Hovannes Shoghikian
Armenia repatriated on Wednesday yet another Azerbaijani soldier who claimed to have been ill-treated by his commanders before being taken prisoner by Armenian forces.
Yaghub Mukhtarov reportedly crossed a western section of the heavily militarized Armenian-Azerbaijani border on March 11. According to Armenian military officials, the 19-year-old conscript said he deserted from his army unit to avoid systematic beating at the hands of fellow soldiers and officers and to receive proper medical assistance.
Mukhtarov confirmed this as he spoke to journalists at a local border crossing moments before being escorted back to Azerbaijan by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He specifically complained about the commander of an Azerbaijani army company where he served. “He is a bad guy. I kept telling him about my seizures but he didn’t care,” he said. “And so I fled.”
Mukhtarov insisted that he wanted to talk to more high-ranking Azerbaijani officers and crossed into Armenian territory by accident. “I don’t know how I ended up here,” he said.
The soldier also said that both Armenian officials and ICRC representatives offered to arrange his deportation to a third country but that he refused. “I don’t want a third country,” he said.
As recently as last February, Armenia deported to an unnamed “European country” another Azerbaijani soldier taken prisoner in similar circumstances in January 2006. The soldier, Samir Mamedov, apparently refused to return home to avoid prosecution on treason charges. At least several Azerbaijani soldiers were reportedly handed lengthy prison sentences in recent years after returning from Armenian captivity.
Mukhtarov’s repatriation came less than two weeks after another Azerbaijani serviceman, who identified himself as Vusal Heybatov, reportedly crossed into Armenian-controlled territory east of Nagorno-Karabakh. Colonel Andranik Mkrtumian, a member of an Armenian government commission dealing with prisoners of war and missing persons, told RFE/RL on Wednesday that Heybatov remains in Armenian custody. But he would not say whether the 18-year-old wants to be sent back to Azerbaijan.