Two elderly men beheaded by Azerbaijani forces in videos widely shared on messaging apps have been identified, confirming two of the bloodiest atrocities in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war.
The men of Armenian origin were not combatants, residents of their respective villages said. Both were beheaded by men wearing the uniform of the Azerbaijani armed forces. The short, gruesome videos of the murders are among the worst in a torrent of footage showing abuse, torture and murder that continued to emerge more than a month after a ceasefire went into effect negotiated by Russia.
Evidence from villagers in interviews with the Guardian corroborates the identifications of an Armenian-backed local government human rights ombudsperson and two prominent Armenian human rights lawyers preparing a related criminal case to murders.
The Guardian also confirmed one of the victim’s identities with a relative and reviewed a passport application photo that strongly resembles the other victim.
In videos uploaded on November 22 and December 3, men in uniforms conforming to those of the Azerbaijani army hold down and behead a man with a knife. Then place the severed head on a dead animal. “This is how we will get revenge – cutting off heads,” said a voice off camera.
Two residents of Madatashen village in Nagorno-Karabakh identified the victim as Genadi Petrosyan, 69, who had moved to the village in the late 1980s from Sumgait town in Azerbaijan.
Gayane Petrosyan (no parents), the headmistress of the local school, lived directly across from Petrosyan’s modest two-room house. She said her father helped install the village’s electrical system and showed her photos of a son who moved to Russia with his ex-wife.
She said of one of the videos: “I could clearly see his face and I could recognize it was him. The Guardian also saw a photograph of Petrosyan which closely resembles the victim in the video.
Genadi Petrosyan, who lived alone, resisted leaving the village as Azerbaijani forces approached. When a neighbor tried to chase him away, he got out of the car and drove home.
Eduard Hayrapetyan, the village chief, said he has known Petrosyan for more than three decades and considered him a close friend of his family. He received his last call from Petrosyan on the morning of October 28 to tell him that he had seen enemy forces in the village. Then, after weeks of silence, the video appeared.
“I am very sad that I took him away from the village, then he came back and it happened,” Hayrapetyan said. “I just can’t find my place.”
Artak Beglaryan, an Armenian-backed local government human rights ombudsperson, said Petrosyan was identified by reviewing 35 missing persons reports for the region and then contacting acquaintances, who confirmed his identity.
He called on the international community to redouble its efforts to investigate war crimes resulting from the conflict. “Western countries have remained silent and have not taken practical steps,” he said. “They have the duties and the levers to talk about it… we don’t see any results, we don’t see any process on their part.
Siranush Sahakyan, a human rights lawyer, also confirmed Petrosyan’s identity and said that she and a colleague, Artak Zeynalyan, had prepared a criminal investigation into the murder.
“Emotionally, it is difficult to watch the videos. From a professional point of view this can be very useful evidence, ”Sahakyan said, warning that they should carefully review the videos to make sure they were not faked.
Amnesty International called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to investigate the videos of beheadings and desecration of bodies. The organization used digital verification techniques to authenticate the images discussed in this article, as well as images of the murder of an Azerbaijani border guard who had his throat slit. Other videos show soldiers desecrating the bodies of enemy combatants.
While both sides have been involved, online channels are increasingly dominated by videos of Armenian soldiers and civilians being abused by advancing Azerbaijani troops.
New revelations of torture and abuse mean that for many, the violence continues even long after the war has ended. “Armenians and Azerbaijanis watch these videos day in and day out, and every day there is a new video that sends a new wave of assault on the public and public sensibilities,” said Tanya Lokshina, researcher at Human Rights Watch, who prepared a thorough report on the abuses against Armenian prisoners of war, released earlier this month. “This trauma also leads to increased levels of hate. Even now, when the active phase of fighting is over.
Some of the most gruesome and most watched videos were also some of the hardest to confirm. A video posted to a Telegram channel on December 7 showed two soldiers in uniforms compatible with the Azerbaijani army pinning an elderly man near a tree. Another soldier passes a knife to one of the attackers, who begins to cut the victim’s neck. The victim’s head begins to separate from the neck before the video ends.
Three residents of Azokh village identified the victim in this video as Yuri Asryan, an 82-year-old recluse who refused to leave the village on October 20 when Azerbaijani forces approached.
“He didn’t communicate much with other people. He simply refused to leave, ”said Georgi Avesyan, the longtime village chief until 2019 and one of the people who identified Asryan. He said it was possible Asryan didn’t fully understand what was going on.
Azerbaijani forces entered the village a few days later and it remained under Baku control under the ceasefire agreement signed on November 9.
There was no news of Asryan’s fate until a 29-second video appeared last week on social media, including Telegram channels which broadcast bloody footage of the conflict.
Araik Azumanyan, the current village chief, said: “I got calls from many people in the village, and even from people who had left the village for Armenia many years ago saying it sounded like [Asryan] in the video. “
A third villager who recognized Asryan said, “I felt bad after watching him, my blood pressure was high, I couldn’t calm down for a week after seeing this.
Beglaryan, the human rights ombudsman, and Sahakyan, the human rights lawyer, also confirmed Asryan’s identity. His next of kin, an elderly sister who visited him occasionally, knows Asryan is deceased but has not seen the video. Asryan’s niece also confirmed to the Guardian that it was him in the video.
Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general last month publicly opened an investigation into war crimes committed by Baku and Yerevan. On Monday, he made his first arrests, detaining two Azerbaijani soldiers for desecrating the bodies of dead Armenian soldiers and two for destroying graves. He has not publicly opened any criminal case in the event of beheading.
There are hundreds of other abuse videos online. Sahakyan said she and a colleague were prosecuting 75 cases of captive Armenian soldiers and civilians in the European Court of Human Rights, 35 of which included video evidence. On Monday evening, the two governments carried out a massive exchange of prisoners, media in the two countries reported.
In one video, a villager named Kamo Manasyan is kicked and beaten as blood flows from his right eye. “How many of you are here,” his interrogator shouts in heavily accented Russian, pointing a gun at Manasyan’s head. “Shoot me if you want,” Manasyan replies. The man hits him with the gun instead.
“It was difficult to watch this video with this cruelty,” Gagik, his nephew, said during a video call. “I think they just want to show their success in this war and humiliate the Armenians, to show that they have won.”
Manasyan’s sister, Nora, can’t stand watching the video. “I want the prisoners of war to come back as soon as possible,” she said, crying. ” I want peace. “
Asked about the allegations of human rights violations during the war, a spokesperson for the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said: “At this point we can only say that the Commissioner received videos and other material alleging human rights violations. Before speaking publicly, she wants to carry out a mission to assess the situation in first person. She is planning a mission to the region soon.
* Gohar Martirosyan contributed reporting and translation from Yerevan, Armenia