Armenia's mass mining of Azerbaijani lands slows clarification of missing compatriots' fate - ombudsperson (Interview)

Politics Materials 31 August 2023 17:55 (UTC +04:00)
Armenia's mass mining of Azerbaijani lands slows clarification of missing compatriots' fate - ombudsperson (Interview)
Asif Mehman
Asif Mehman
Read more

BAKU, Azerbaijan, August 31. Armenia's contamination of Azerbaijani territories with mines slows down the process of finding out the fate of our compatriots missing. Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) of the Azerbaijan Republic Sabina Aliyeva said this in an exclusive interview with Trend.

She noted that about 4,000 Azerbaijanis went missing during the first Karabakh war as a result of Armenia's military aggression against Azerbaijan (the State Commission for Prisoners of War, Hostages, and Missing Citizens of Azerbaijan officially registered 3,890 people). Among them, 3,171 were servicemen, and 719 were civilians. The civilians included 71 children, 267 women, and 326 old people. 872 missing persons, including 29 children, 98 women, and 112 old people, were captured or remained in the occupied territories.

"Despite the testimonies of war prisoners and civilians who witnessed these events, numerous pieces of evidence, and repeated appeals to provide information on the fate of the missing, the Armenian side denies the fact of capturing and keeping Azerbaijanis in captivity. Hiding these facts from international organizations, Armenia still does not provide Azerbaijan with information about the fate of the missing Azerbaijanis, including the places of mass graves. Thus, there is a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, on the protection of war victims, as well as the requirements of other international agreements," the Ombudsman said.

Answering the question of whether any positive results have been achieved in connection with the release of our compatriots taken captive and hostage during the first Karabakh war, she said that according to the data of the State Commission for Prisoners of War, Hostages, and Missing Citizens of Azerbaijan, the release and return home of 378 servicemen and 1,102 civilians (224 children, 357 women, and 225 elderly people) who were held captive and hostage, a total of 1,480 Azerbaijani citizens, have been secured. "At the same time, according to other information disseminated by the commission, it was possible to clarify the fate of 15 Azerbaijani citizens missing in the first Karabakh war, whose identity was established in the process of identification of the discovered remains," Sabina Aliyeva said.

There are numerous testimonies about Armenia's detention of our compatriots in captivity and as hostages during the first Karabakh war and the cruel tortures they were subjected to, and one of the irrefutable facts in this regard was reflected in the letters sent by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1998 and 2001 to the State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages, and Missing Citizens of Azerbaijan regarding 54 Azerbaijanis. In these ICRC letters, it is noted that representatives of the organization visited 54 Azerbaijani citizens taken prisoner by the Armenian military in places of detention in Armenia and in Azerbaijan's occupied Karabakh. They were officially registered by the ICRC. However, the bodies of 17 persons were subsequently returned, while the bodies of 33 others, including six women who were stated to have died in the places of detention, were not returned, and no information was provided on the fate of four others, she added.

According to her, out of the 613 residents of Khojaly killed by the Armenian military during the occupation of Azerbaijan's Khojaly, 63 were underage children and 106 were women of different ages. Eight families were completely destroyed; 487 people were severely injured, resulting in disability; 76 of them were children. 196 residents of Khojaly are listed as missing, including 36 children, including 13 girls, and 65 women, including 20 elderly. Hundreds of Azerbaijanis who were subjected to various unbearable tortures and suffered very serious injuries while in captivity in Armenia, which resulted in lifelong disabilities, are still suffering from serious physical and mental health problems today. Testimonies and interviews of people about being in Armenian captivity during the first Karabakh war testify to the commission by Armenia of numerous crimes against peace and humanity, as well as war crimes against Azerbaijanis.

The Ombudsman noted that the issues of increasing the efficiency of the work on informing the world community about Armenian genocide policy against the Azerbaijani people, bringing back to their homeland the persons taken prisoners and hostages as a result of the committed aggression, searching for the captives and missing persons taken hostage in the conflict zones, and coordinating the activities of state bodies and public and international organizations in this field fall within the competence of the State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages, and Missing Persons of Azerbaijan. Cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross, other international organizations dealing with humanitarian issues, and persons carrying out activities in this field is also undertaken in this connection. The main activity of the Ombudsman in this sphere is to support the acceleration of the process, to appeal to international organizations to stop Armenia's provocations and its gross violation of international humanitarian law, and to take urgent measures with regard to the captives, missing persons, and hostage-taking compatriots. In this context, since the beginning of the second Karabakh war, issues related to this have been at the center of the Ombudsman's constant attention. Appeals were sent to the UN, the Council of Europe, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other authorized international and regional organizations; regular correspondence was conducted with them; and meetings were held. It was demanded to investigate, on the basis of special procedures, the facts of war crimes committed by Armenian armed forces and to take measures defining international legal responsibility.

In addition, according to the Commissioner for Human Rights, the staff of the Ombudsman's Office held meetings with the families of persons who went missing during the first Karabakh war and collected the facts necessary to send to the relevant international structures. At the same time, in a video message addressed to international organizations on the occasion of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances in 2021, the world community was called upon to assist in providing reliable information on the fate of our compatriots missing in connection with the military aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan. 26 citizens of Azerbaijan (20 servicemen and 6 civilians) were released from Armenian captivity by joint efforts in the aftermath of the Great Victory won in the 44-day Patriotic War by the heroic Azerbaijani Army under the leadership of the victorious Supreme Commander-in-Chief, President Ilham Aliyev. The Ombudsman added that, unfortunately, six servicemen who were registered as missing during the 44-day war have not been found yet. At present, work on their search continues.

Sabina Aliyeva noted that mass graves were discovered in the territories liberated from occupation, including Edilli, Bashlibel, Farrukh villages, and Shusha city, where the remains of about 500 people were found. In this regard, the relevant body appointed forensic medical and molecular genetic examiners, questioned witnesses, and carried out other necessary investigative and operational activities. "The Armenian side evades providing information about the places of mass graves as well as accurate mine maps. Nevertheless, the relevant structures in Azerbaijan are constantly working to identify mass grave sites and conduct relevant expert examinations in order to clarify the fate of about 4,000 Azerbaijanis who went missing during the first Karabakh war. The fact that Azerbaijani prisoners were held by Armenians in Shusha prison during the Armenian occupation and their torture and inhuman treatment are confirmed by witnesses' testimonies. Human remains were discovered in June 2023 during search operations in the territory of Shusha prison. Then a mass grave was discovered in the town of Shusha; the remains of 17 people were found there. One of the horrifying facts related to the mass grave found in a well on the territory of Shusha prison is the discovery of nails in the bones, which indicates that people were tortured. At the same time, during the initial examination, the remains showed traces of bullets and blows with blunt and stabbing objects. All these are convincing facts proving the Armenian policy of hatred towards Azerbaijanis and merciless treatment of captives and hostages. But, unfortunately, as a result of the lack of pressure at the international level and the long-standing atmosphere of impunity, Armenia quietly continues to commit illegal acts".

There are a number of reasons that, to a certain extent, hinder the process of clarifying the fate of the missing compatriots. One of them is that the Armenian side, demonstrating an unconstructive position, does not provide information about the burial sites. Another reason is Armenia's contamination of Azerbaijani territories with mines and unexploded ordnance and its failure to provide accurate mine maps despite repeated appeals. Unfortunately, in this regard, it has not yet been possible to locate the remaining mass grave sites in a short period of time. However, as the territories are being cleared of mines, the process is progressing, she added.