By Emil Danielyan
Three Armenian soldiers captured by Azerbaijani forces last week do not want to be repatriated for fear of retribution, according to Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry.
The soldiers were taken prisoner early on February 28 after crossing the heavily militarized Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact east of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian military said they ended up in Azerbaijani-controlled territory in “unknown circumstances.”
Azerbaijani media have quoted military sources in Baku as saying that Hrant Markosian, Artush Sargsian and Alik Tevosian willingly surrendered themselves and told their captors that they were systematically malnourished and mistreated by their Karabakh Armenian commanders.
A spokesman for the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, Eldar Sabiroglu, told the Trend news agency that the three conscripts do not want to return home and have asked the Azerbaijani authorities to deport them to a third country. “They are afraid of again finding themselves in an unbearable condition in the Armenian army,” he said.
According to the Azerbaijani ANS television, a similar request has also been made by Paruyr Simonian, another Armenian soldier who was taken prisoner in similar circumstances in July.
The Armenian side has likewise reported over the past year instances of Azerbaijani soldiers surrendering to enemy troops to escape hazing at the hands of their commanders and fellow servicemen. One of them, Samir Mamedov, was reportedly deported to unnamed “European country” in February 2008. Another soldier, Rafik Hasanov, was shown on Armenian television in December saying that will not return home and wants to stay in Armenia for good.
Other Azerbaijani prisoners of war are known to have been prosecuted and imprisoned on treason charges after their release from Armenian captivity and repatriation. One of them, Vusal Eybatov, was sentenced to 11 years in prison as recently as on January 27. Eybatov was captured by Karabakh Armenian forces in April 2008 and sent back to Azerbaijan three weeks later.