The Armenian military on Monday claimed to have obtained more evidence of war crimes allegedly committed by Azerbaijani troops after recovering the bodies of 18 Armenian soldiers killed in and around Nagorno-Karabakh this month.
It said that virtually all of them had traces of torture or mutilation.
The warring sides began on Friday exchanging, through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the bodies of each other’s dead soldiers held by them.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army handed over 13 bodies to the Azerbaijani side and received 18 corpses in return on Sunday evening. An army spokesman told the Mediamax news agency that Azerbaijani military officials and ICRC representatives will also be allowed to collect “more than a dozen enemy corpses” lying very close to Karabakh Armenian positions.
The handover raised to 65 the official number of Armenian soldiers killed since the April 2 outbreak of the worst fighting in Karabakh in over two decades. More than 120 others have been wounded in the same period, according to the Armenian military.
The Azerbaijani army has so far acknowledged 32 combat deaths within its ranks. However, according to Azerbaijan’s independent news service Meydan TV and the Baku-based Caspian Defense Studies Institute, at least 92 Azerbaijani soldiers have died in action since April 2. Both sources have released the names of those soldiers.
According to Viktor Kocharian, an official from a Karabakh commission on prisoners of war and missing persons, one Armenian soldier remained unaccounted for as of Monday evening. “We are working with the Red Cross to establish the soldier’s whereabouts,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Kocharian also told Karabakh television that the bodies of the 18 Armenian soldiers will be handed to their families after being identified by forensic experts.
Alik Avetisian, a senior aide to Armenia’s Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, said almost all of them have traces of torture or mutilation. “We need to clarify at the expert level whether that was done before or after their death,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Avetisian said three of the dead soldiers were decapitated.
“These are definitely war crimes under international law,” charged Artsrun Hovannisian, the Defense Ministry spokesman. “All documentary evidence will be put together and handed to corresponding international structures.”
The Karabakh commission also dealing with POWs added its voice to these allegations. “Those acts … run counter to the laws and customs of war and are in grave violation of the international humanitarian law,” it said in a statement.
Naira Zohrabian, a senior Armenian parliamentarian, said the National Assembly will share purported evidence of the war crimes with the Council of Europe. “Military experts say that even [during the Karabakh war] in 1991-1994 Azerbaijan didn’t do such barbaric things to soldiers and civilians,” said Zohrabian.
An ICRC spokeswoman in Yerevan, Zara Amatuni, declined to confirm or deny the mutilation allegations. She said Red Cross information regarding the condition of the repatriated corpses is not subject to publication in line with the organization’s long-running operating procedures.