AZERBAIJAN has been accused of human-rights abuses after video footage on social media allegedly showed the humiliation of Armenian prisoners of war, who were kicked, slapped, and made to kiss the Azerbaijani flag.
The video relates to the recent conflict over the disputed territory of Ngorno-Karabakh. A peace deal brokered by Russia last month has led to the return to Azerbaijan of parts of the territory that had been controlled by Armenia for three decades. Many Armenians have fled the region, setting fire to their homes as they left.
The pressure group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has contacted the families of those shown in the footage on social media to confirm their identities. The families confirmed that the men had been serving in either the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army or the Armenian armed forces.
Some of the prisoners depicted in the videos had since been in touch with their families, and said that they were being treated well, HRW acknowledged. The European Court of Human Rights has instructed Azerbaijan to provide information on the prisoners.
Armenian officials have told HRW that Azerbaijan holds “dozens” of Armenian POWs. Armenia is known to hold Azerbaijani prisoners, and at least three foreign mercenaries. HRW is also investigating other videos alleging abuse of Azerbaijani POWs which have circulated on social media, and will report on its findings.
“There can be no justification for the violent and humiliating treatment of prisoners of war,” HRW’s Europe and Central Asia director, Hugh Williamson, said.
A spokesman for the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, has said that there will be an investigation, and the guilty will be “brought to justice”.
Several videos allegedly showing atrocities by both sides in the conflict have been circulating on social media since October, although analysts for the BBC have said that some of the footage is not what it purports to be, but has been taken from other conflicts.
Two videos showing Armenian prisoners of war being executed appeared, however, to be genuine, the BBC said.
The Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, has faced fury from his country for signing the Russian-brokered peace treaty. Tens of thousands of Armenians had called on him to resign by Tuesday this week, but he has refused, saying that the peace deal has saved thousands of lives.
Several priests have joined the demonstrations against the Prime Minister, criticising the government for handing over some of Armenia’s holy sites, such as the 12th-century Dadivank monastery, which has been placed under the protection of the Russian peacekeeping forces.