Azerbaijan has paraded on national television an Armenian soldier who was captured by its troops near Nagorno-Karabakh last week, sparking strong condemnation from his relatives and official Yerevan.
The Azerbaijani TV station ANS aired an interview with Hakob Injighulian late on Monday five days after he crossed the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontline around Karabakh in still unclear circumstances.
Injighulian told ANS that he deliberately surrendered to the Azerbaijani army after being punched by the commander of his unit in a bitter dispute. The 22-year-old soldier wore an Azerbaijani military uniform and had what looked a bruise under his left eye during the interview.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry, which insists that Injighulian accidentally strayed into Azerbaijani-controlled territory, was quick to condemn the interview as a gross violation of international conventions on treatment of prisoners of war. Artsrun Hovannisian, the ministry spokesman, claimed that he was forced to present a false version of events.
Injighulian’s relatives also categorically ruled out the possibility of his deliberate surrender. They said the soldier had served in Karabakh for more than a year and never reported any ill-treatment at the hands of his officers and comrades. “We exclude that because he didn’t look like his usual self in the video. We wonder what they are doing to him … This is just a show organized by Azerbaijan,” said Arpine Dilanian, Injighulian’s cousin.
Dilanian spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) as she and other relatives as well as residents of an Armenian village where the family lives gathered outside the Yerevan office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). They blamed the ICRC for Injighulian’s alleged mistreatment, saying that Red Cross representatives in Baku have still not met with the Armenian POW.
The Azerbaijani authorities promised on Saturday to arrange such a meeting. Armenia’s Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan asked the ICRC to assure Injighulian that he will not be prosecuted in case of returning home.
Hovannisian reaffirmed that pledge. “Regardless of everything, we are awaiting the return of our soldier. Regardless of what he said there, he will not face prosecution if he returns to Armenia,” the official told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
A resident of an Armenian border village, Manvel Saribekian, was similarly paraded on Azerbaijani television after being detained by Azerbaijani soldiers in September 2010. Saribekian was shown by ANS saying that he was a member of an Armenian sabotage unit that planned to blow up a school in an Azerbaijani border village.
The 20-year-old was found hanged in an Azerbaijani detention center shortly afterwards. The Azerbaijani authorities claimed that he committed suicide.
The Armenian government said, however, that Saribekian was tortured to death or driven to suicide. Both the government and Saribekian’s family insisted that the young man was a civilian who accidentally crossed the Armenian-Azerbaijani border while grazing cattle.
Saribekian’s body was repatriated later in 2010 in exchange for the liberation of an Azerbaijani man who crossed into Armenia.