The man, Manvel Saribekian, was found hanged in his prison cell last week nearly a month after being captured by Azerbaijani troops in disputed circumstances. While pledging to investigate the death, the Azerbaijani authorities claimed that the 20-year-old “saboteur” committed suicide and had no traces of violence on his body.
Armenian officials dismissed these claims, saying that he was tortured to death or “driven to suicide.” They also insist that Saribekian was a civilian resident of an Armenian border village who accidentally strayed into Azerbaijani territory.
Igor Popov, the Russian co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, offered his and the two other mediators’ condolences to the victim’s family. “We believe that this incident must be investigated in the most meticulous way and that relevant international organizations, notably the International Committee of the Red Cross, must be involved in that process,” he told journalists in Stepanakert.
According to Red Cross officials in Yerevan, the Azerbaijani authorities repeatedly refused to allow representatives of the Geneva-based group’s office in Baku to visit Saribekian. The Armenian government says this is another indication that the captive was tortured before his death. Officials in Baku have strongly denied this.
Popov and the fellow Minsk Group co-chairs from the United States and France spoke to reporters in the Karabakh capital after all but completing a tour of Armenian-controlled territories in Azerbaijan proper that surround Karabakh. Their “field assessment mission” started late last week.
“We need to understand the situation in these areas and hear from the people who are there, in these areas,” said Robert Bradtke, the group’s U.S. co-chair, referring to several thousand Armenian settlers living there.
According to Bradtke’s French opposite number, Bernard Fassier, UN experts accompanying the mediators have interviewed some of those people. “They will help us to assess the humanitarian needs of the population,” he said.
The co-chairs announced their intention to “observe the humanitarian situation” in early September shortly before Azerbaijan withdrew a controversial draft resolution on the Karabakh conflict from the UN General Assembly. They will present their findings in a report to be released later this year.