Kidnapped Armenian officer faces life imprisonment in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is reportedly preparing criminal proceedings against Armenian POW Gurgen Alaverdyan, who is currently under custody in Baku. If convicted, the junior officer who was abducted from the Line of Contact near Talish over the weekend will likely face life imprisonment in Azerbaijan. 

In a staged video address released by Azerbaijani authorities, Second Lieutenant Alaverdyan is seen claiming to have been part of a botched commando raid on Azerbaijani positions before being captured. Azerbaijani media quote the officer as unexpectedly expressing his desire to remain in, and serve Azerbaijan, citing the supposed futility of Armenia’s military attempts to defeat its main rival. The Azeri news coverage has been candid about the fact that “Alaverdyan read his address from a pre-written text.”

That the admission was clearly made under duress came as no surprise to the Armenian side. Defense Ministry Press Secretary Shushan Stepanyan called the charges “utter nonsense,” blasting the apparent show trial as a “poor-quality stage performance.” “We suggest that the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry should not make superfluous efforts for distorting the reality,” tweeted Stepanyan on Monday. She also added that the Defense Ministry was in contact with relevant international organizations to secure the officer’s safe return.

Armenian sources have also disputed Azeri accounts of the incident, claiming that Lieutenant Alaverdyan had not been part of any offensive against Azeri positions and had simply lost his way in thick mountain fog on Saturday evening as he tried to regain his position. With the LOC stretching along the entirety of the Azeri-Armenian frontier, in many places being poorly marked, accidental crossings by both civilians and military personnel of both sides have been relatively common—as have been dubious accusations of illusive cross-border raids or defections. 

Back in January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Azerbaijan was responsible for the murder of Manvel Saribekyan, a farmer who had strayed across the border in thick fog in 2010. Similar rulings over the cases of Karen Petrosyan and Mamikon Khojoyan, two Armenian farmers who died of torture in Azerbaijani custody, are also expected. 

An earlier video released by Azerbaijani state-controlled media has sparked concern in Armenia. It depicts a recently-captured Alaverdyan being taunted and humiliated by Azeri soldiers—a violation of Part II, Articles 13 and 16 of the Geneva Convention.

On Tuesday the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that its representatives in Baku are attempting to secure a visit to the Armenian POW to ascertain his health and conditions of captivity. The international organization’s representative in Armenia, Claire Meytraud, assured the Armenian authorities that everything was being done to ensure that Azerbaijan respects its commitments in treating prisoners of war. 

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