Armenia accused Azerbaijan on Wednesday of murdering an Armenian man who died in Azerbaijani captivity in unclear circumstances the previous day.
Manvel Saribekian, 20, was reportedly found hanged in a detention center in Azerbaijan nearly one month after being captured on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The Azerbaijani authorities said he committed suicide and claimed to have found traces of violence on his body.
The Armenian government dismissed this explanation, saying that Saribekian was tortured to death or “driven to suicide.” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian condemned his “horrendous” death in unusually strong terms.
“This is a behavior characteristic of well-known terrorists: to humiliate a hostage in front of TV cameras and then kill him,” Nalbandian said in the Armenian parliament.
“Obviously, it’s not possible to solve issues in the 21st century with such medieval methods. And as we know, violence is a sign of weakness,” he added.
The minister was referring to an interview with Saribekian that was aired by a government-controlled Azerbaijani TV channel last month. The young man, who had what looked a like bruise under his right eye, was shown saying that he was a member of an Armenian sabotage unit that planned to blow up a school in an Azerbaijani border village.
The Armenian authorities insist that Saribekian was a resident of Tutujur, a village in northeastern Armenia close to the Azerbaijani border, who strayed into Azerbaijani territory while grazing cattle on September 11. They say he completed his military service in May.
Tutujur’s mayor, Samvel Stepanian, likewise said that the captive was a civilian. “I knew the boy and can say that he wouldn’t do such a thing,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “He would commit suicide only if he was treated so badly that he felt hanging himself would be better than living.”
“He wasn’t quite educated and was from a very poor family,” said Stepanian. “He was often the family’s main hope.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Yerevan office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (IRRC) said the authorities in Baku never allowed representatives of the Geneva-based group to meet Saribekian in custody. “We were engaged in a confidential dialogue with the authorities aimed at visiting him,” Ashot Astabatsian told RFE/RL. “But we didn’t visit him because we didn’t get a permission to do that up until his death.”
Mikael Danielian, a prominent Armenian human rights campaigner, suggested that the Azerbaijani authorities, which normally allow Red Cross officials to visit Armenian captives, had “something to hide.” “That give me reason to suspect that the lad was tortured,” he said. “The Red Cross must conduct an investigation and clarify all details.”
Speaking to RFE/RL, Danielian also said that he has written to fellow human rights activists in Azerbaijan asking them to also investigate circumstances of Saribekian’s death and prevent a government cover-up.