Azerbaijan arrests soldiers for suspected war crimes

Soldiers arrested in connection with videos circulated online that appear to show the mutilation of corpses and desecration of graveyards

epa08874779 Azerbaijani soldiers during a military parade dedicated to the victory in the Nagorno-Karabakh armed conflict, in Baku, Azerbaijan, 10 December 2020. The simmering territorial conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh territory erupted into a war between the two countries on 27 September 2020 along the contact line of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (also known as Artsakh). On 09 November 2020 Presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia and Armenian Prime Minister signed a joint statement announcing a complete ceasefire and halt of all military operations in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, and return of the Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.  EPA/POMAN ISMAYILOV
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Azerbaijan arrested four soldiers on charges of war crimes in the first arrests since a war over the breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia ended last month.
Rashad Aliyev and Gardashkhan Abisov were charged with mutilating the corpses of Armenian soldiers in the Zangilan region, which borders the enclave, after videos of the acts surfaced on social media.
A senior Azerbaijani official, who did not want to be named, told The National that he condemned the atrocities and hinted that there would be further arrests.

A statement from Baku’s prosecutor-general said a further two soldiers, Arzu Huseynov and Umid Agayev, were arrested for desecrating the graves in an Armenian cemetery in the village of Madatli, Khojavend, a region that has now been retaken by Azerbaijan. The incident was also recorded on video and circulated online.

Pressure is mounting on Azerbaijan and Armenia as evidence of a litany of war crimes has emerged since a Russia-brokered ceasefire on November 9 that largely ended hostilities.

International organisations accuse both sides of breaching international humanitarian law during the six-week conflict.

Hikmet Hajiyev, a senior adviser to Azerbaijan’s president, said he anticipated there could be more arrests of Azerbaijani soldiers accused of war crimes.

"The statement from the prosecutor's office with clear names once again demonstrates the determination and commitment of the Azerbaijani government and the people of Azerbaijan," he said.

My Hajiyev said that a video that appears to show the slitting of an Armenian's throat should also be investigated. 
"It's unacceptable, I condemn it. It's beyond Azerbaijani culture. Whoever did it is going to be severely punished under Azerbaijani laws," he said. 
Rasul Jafarov, a human rights defender and chair of the Baku Human Rights Club, said he was surprised at the government's move to arrest soldiers as the country rides a wave of nationalist euphoria after what is widely regarded as a stunning victory.
"They opened a criminal case three weeks ago when the first footage was disseminated. It was an unexpected step, but at the same time, we evaluate it as a positive step. As I said, we didn't expect them to do it," he said.

Mr Jafarov said the charged men could face jail terms of up to 10 years if found guilty.
"They [Azerbaijan government] wants to demonstrate that these are isolated cases ... [that it] doesn't have anything to do with the leadership of the army and leadership of the country," he said. 
The arrests came just days after Amnesty International published a report verifying 22 videos depicting "extrajudicial executions, the mistreatment of war and other captives, and the desecration of corpses", all war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.
More than 5,500 soldiers and 144 civilians were killed on both sides during the short conflict.