Cease Fire 20 Years On: Returned hostages show damages of captivity

The moon-shaped wound on the head of Mamikon Khojoyan, 77, is testimony to a nearly two-month captivity and violent torture by Azeris, who took the man hostage when he wondered into enemy territory last winter.

Two months after his release the elderly man – who suffers mental disorder -- doesn’t recognize any of his relatives and can barely groan of pain from various wounds.

Twenty years after signing a ceasefire agreement, the restless Armenian-Azerbaijani border remains a reason for distorting human lives. Only during the first four months of 2014 in the North-Eastern border of Armenia two Armenian citizens crossed the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and appeared in the opponent’s land. Cases like this once again prove the existence of problems in the behavior of the conflicting countries.

On January 28 Mamikon Khojoyan, a resident of Armenia’s northeastern Verin Karmraghbyur village, appeared on the Azerbaijani land and was presented as ‘armed Armenian saboteur’ by Azerbaijani media. On the day of the incident the man went to his vineyard, which is situated about two kilometers away from the border with Azerbaijan. Villagers say that Khojoyan was prone to wander, and on this day strayed across the border.

On March 4, Khojoyan was returned to Armenia under the aegis of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC). According to local doctors, during the days of captivity he was subjected to torture, the result of which included a broken knee, arm and cuts.

After days and days under doctors’ watch Khojoyan still has health problems today. His wounded right hand is still swollen, his relatives say that his whole body is affected and his daughter even suspects that the Azerbaijani injected diesel into her father’s body.

The Republic of Armenia Police initiated a criminal investigation, which will necessitate the help of a number of European conventions and international agencies’ respective mediation.

A few days after returning Khojoyan back to Armenia, on March 7 Azerbaijani media announced about another Armenian national crossing the border, which was later confirmed by the Armenian side. Arsen Khojoyan, 22, a co-villager and a distant relative of Mamikon, was taken hostage in the same section of the border. The younger Khojoyan was returned back on April 10 and the doctors confirmed that he wasn’t subjected to tortures in Azerbaijan.

Arsen Khojoyan’s case is exceptional in that all other Armenian civilians who were returned after captivity have experienced serious health issues.

Artur Badalyan, a resident of Haghartsin village in Tavush province, who on May 9, 2009 in a forest of Navur village appeared on the Azerbaijani side while collecting mushrooms, was repatriated only on March 17, 2011 with serious health issues.

Armenia’s former Ombudsperson, head of the NGO Against Violation of Law Larisa Alaverdyan says that Badalyan was in the severest psychological condition when he was repatriated and had to spend months at different rehabilitation centers. Badalyan revealed he had been subjected to torture while in Azeri captivity.

According to Alaverdyan, the Azerbaijani side uses different means of torture against different captives, but the common thing is etching something on various parts of the body, in some cases repatriated captives do not have external injuries, but their internal organs are damaged.

On September 11, 2010 a resident of Tetujur village 3-4 kilometers from the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, 21-year-old Manvel Saribekyan appeared on the Azerbaijani side and on October 5, 2010 according Azerbaijani side committed suicide, while the Armenian side considers it a murder.

Many think that after the big noise Mamikon Khojoyan’s torture case created Azerbaijan decided to release young Khojoyan without harm, as a way of improving its image among the international society.

Nevertheless, even the fact that people can easily and with no serious obstacles cross the border raises concerns.

According to expert Tigran Abrahamyan the recent incidents raises the question of state border security, applying new infrastructures to the vulnerable sections of the border.

“It’s unacceptable, when months ago after an RA citizen crossed the section of the border respective structures didn’t arrive at necessary conclusions, which resulted in repetition of the same phenomenon just some 2 months after the incident,” says the expert adding that it’s impossible to announce that in general military bases don’t provide the security of the border, but it’s also obvious that at different sections of the border there are vulnerable gaps which result in tragic occurrences making the situation even more tense.

Besides the absence of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations there is also no cooperation between councils dealing with problems of prisoners, hostages and missing persons in both sides, and thus the function of repatriation of hostages is all on ICRC. Meanwhile both Armen Kaprielian, the head of a working group at the Armenian government-affiliated committee dealing with issues of prisoners, hostages and missing persons, and NGO Against Violation of Law head, human rights defender Alaverdyan say that for long years they have successfully cooperated with the opponent counterparts, however since the rule of Azerbaijan’s current president Ilham Aliev those ties have been broken.

“When the Defense Minister was Serzh Sargsyan and in Azerbaijan – Safar Abiev, there was a positive agreement, and if there were border violations, they could quickly find out whether those were accidental or not, and exchange of those persons was realized, whilst in the recent years they take a living human and return only the body, they take a healthy person and return one with health issues, and finally in case of (the elder) Khojoyan we have all appearances of torture,” says Alaverdyan.

It’s difficult to say in Armenia how many hostages there are in Azerbaijan. Armen Kaprielian says that there are nearly 200 missing persons; 100 of which are known to be kept hostage in Azerbaijan.

However, according to NGO Against Violation of Law data there are around 950 missing persons among whom there are both combatants and civilians, particularly 500 civilians missing as a result of an Azerbaijani attack in the summer of 1992 in the Martakert region of Nagorno Karabakh.

Currently what is known is that there is one prisoner of war, Hakob Injighulyan, who according to the Armenian side, on August 8, 2013 got lost and taken under the control of Azerbaijani military forces. The Azerbaijani side announced that the Armenian soldier escaped from harsh conditions in the Armenian base.

It’s also known that there is a five-member family in the Azerbaijani side who willfully crossed the border in July, 2010.

According to the Armenian side there are no Azeri hostages in Armenia. On January 29, 2014 an Azerbaijani citizen, a resident of Baku 38-years-old Javid Orujev, together with his wife and three little children applied to Armenian authorities at the Georgian-Armenian Bagratashen border checkpoint with the purpose of receiving asylum. His appeal was satisfied and they were granted asylum.