Saturday

4th Feb 2023

Opinion

The glowing embers of Nagorno Karabakh

  • There is no appetite in Yerevan or Baku to conduct genuine inquiries into the conduct of their militaries, or to enact key institutional and legislative reform to prevent unnecessary civilian suffering in future conflicts (Photo: nkrmil.am)

On 27 September 2020, the embers of the long-standing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh ignited a bitter six-week war.

At least 5,000 people lost their lives – including 100 Azerbaijani and 55 Armenian civilians. Over 100,000 people have been displaced. Countless civilians on both sides suffered horrendous physical injury, life-altering trauma and widespread damage to housing and key infrastructure.

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Between October and December 2020, International Partnership for Human Rights and Truth Hounds conducted multiple field investigation missions to Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The team documented 32 cases of indiscriminate bombing of civilians, at least eight cases of extra-judicial executions, systematic abuse and torture of prisoners of war and civilian captives, despoliation of the dead, deliberate targeting of places of religious or cultural significance and the deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical transport and medical personnel.

This conduct amounts to gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and should be prosecuted as war crimes. Behind all of these facts and figures, lie heart-wrenching victim accounts.

Case studies

At approximately 2PM on 30 September 2020, Vahe was near his shop in Martakert/Agdere, when he heard the sound of incoming Azerbaijani artillery fire. He ran into the basement of his shop. When he came out, he saw that David - the owner of his neighbouring shop - was bleeding from injuries suffered during the attack. He rushed to him, only to realise that David's mother, father and aunt lay dead inside the shop, and a customer was in critical condition.

On 17 October, three Armenian ballistic SCUD missiles descended on Ganja city, Azerbaijan, hitting undefended residential areas, killing 13 civilians. Ali and his wife were in their summer kitchen in the backyard of their house. He was watching television when he heard a loud explosion and temporarily lost his hearing and orientation. When he came to, he heard people screaming under the rubble. His children had cuts all over their arms and legs, and his pregnant daughter was taken to hospital where she gave birth prematurely.

On 25 October, Armen was transferred into the custody of Azerbaijan's state security with four other Armenian captives. During his "medical examination", he was stripped naked and beaten on his face and buttocks with hands and truncheons. He was taken to his cell, severely beaten and made to clean the floors with his clothes. He was repeatedly forced to salute and shout "Karabakh is Azerbaijan". The next day, he was taken to an interrogation room, where he was kicked, punched, shocked with a Taser and whipped with electric cables. An interrogator placed a plastic bag over his head to choke him. Armen says he was unable to walk by himself after the interrogations and suffered multiple fractures and damage to his kidneys.

On 27 October, a group of Azerbaijani soldiers captured and decapitated a 69-year old civilian, Genadiy Petrosyan, in the Madatashen village of Nagorno-Karabakh. A video of the attack shows an Azerbaijani combatant cutting Petrosyan's head off and placing it on a dead pig's corpse. A voice, in Azerbaijani, states "this is how we get revenge".

'Impunity gap'

The 2020 six-week-war has not resolved any of the issues that divide the region.

The level of inter-ethnic hatred is at peak level, laying the foundations of future conflicts. The ink was barely dry on the peace deal when tens of thousands of Armenians took to the streets to denounce prime minister Nikol Pashinyan at a traitor.

Just five months after the end of the conflict, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev inaugurated the so-called "Military Trophies Park" – a grotesque collection of war memorabilia, including helmets belonging to Armenian casualties and unabashedly racist wax mannequins of Armenian soldiers.

Whilst it may be convenient to do so, the international community must not sweep this war – and its war crimes – into the dustbin of history.

As long as there are no meaningful steps towards justice and reconciliation, the conflict will continue to re-ignite, costing lives and destabilising the entire South Caucuses region.

There is no appetite in Yerevan or Baku to conduct genuine inquiries into the conduct of their militaries, or to enact key institutional and legislative reform to prevent unnecessary civilian suffering in future conflicts.

The impunity gap must be bridged by the international community, through independent investigations to establish a trustworthy historical record, and justice mechanism to establish accountability for war crimes.

To do nothing is to condemn the region and its long-suffering civilian populations to future conflict and suffering.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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