Great Britain’s The Guardian newspaper has identified the two men beheaded in Armenia’s Nagorno-Karabakh region in an exclusive report published on Tuesday.
The elderly ethnic Armenian men had refused to leave their villages when the Azerbaijani forces who took control of the area arrived, according to local people.
Videos of the atrocity in the village of Madatashen, committed by men who are wearing the uniforms of Azerbaijani forces, have been circulating widely around the world on social media since it occurred.
The recent flare-up of longstanding unrest in the area between the Armenians who lived in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijani forces backed by Turkey resulted in thousands of casualties and the forced relocation of ethnic Armenians from the region.
The men who were beheaded were not armed and were noncombatants, according to the people in their villages who knew them well.
“This is how we get revenge”
The videos, posted online on November 22 and December 3, showed men ostensibly in Azerbaijani military uniforms holding down and decapitating a man using a knife, then placing the severed head atop a dead animal. One of the men off camera then says “This is how we get revenge — by cutting off heads.”
The gruesome videos are not the only ones to emerge from the ethnic and religious-fueled clash, as others have also been circulated showing torture, murder and abuse since the ceasefire, guaranteed by Russia, was imposed on the conflict.
The Guardian spoke firsthand to villagers, whose testimony has been verified by a human rights ombudsman from the local Armenia-backed government. Two well-known human rights attorneys are already preparing a criminal case in the beheadings of the local men.
The British newspaper also independently confirmed the identity of one of the victims with a relative of the man. He is Genadi Petrosyan, 69, who had moved to Madatashen in the late 1980s.
He originally had been from the city of Sumgait, in Azerbaijan. He had been urged to leave the village after the cease-fire by his neighbors, However, he changed his mind at the last minute and left their care, walking back to his modest, two-room home.
The mayor of the village, Eduard Hayrapetyan, told reporters that he had known Petrosyan for more than thirty years and that he had been a close friend. Petrosyan’s father had been an electrician and the man responsible for bringing electricity to the village.
Hayrapetyan stated that he had heard from Petrosyan on October 28, who told him that enemy forces had entered his village. He heard no more from his friend after that point. “I feel great sorrow that I took him away from the village and then he came back and this happened,” Hayrapetyan related to reporters. “I just can’t find my place.”
Gayane Petrosyan, who is no relation to the victim, also recognized him in the video. The principal of the local school, she was also the man’s neighbor, living directly across the street from him. “I could clearly see his face and I could recognise that it was him.”
The Guardian also viewed a photograph of the man and stated that it “closely resembled” Genadi Petrosyan.
Its reporter was also able to view a passport application photo which bore a great resemblance to the other victim.
Human rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan called for renewed action on the part of the international community to look into these recent war crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Western countries have kept silent and they haven’t taken practical steps,” he stated. “They have the duties and levers to speak about this … we don’t see any results, we don’t see any process from them.”
Human rights lawyer Siranush Sahakyan was also able to confirm that Petrosyan was the man beheaded in the video, adding that she and a colleague, Artak Zeynalyan, are in the process of putting together a criminal investigation into the murder.
“Emotionally, it is hard to watch the videos,” she states. However, “from a professional perspective, it can be very useful evidence,” she admitted, adding that they had looked into them to assure that they had not been faked.
Amnesty International has used digital verification techniques to affirm that the videos are indeed authentic, calleding on Armenia and Azerbaijan to investigate the crimes involving the decapitations and desecrations of corpses.
The international organization has also reviewed footage showing the murder of an Azerbaijani border guard who also had his throat cut by assailants. Yet other videos show soldiers desecrating the bodies of men who had been fighters in the conflict.
Preponderance of videos show atrocities committed by Azerbaijani soldiers
Both sides in the war have been implicated in these atrocities but a preponderance of the videos show scenes of Armenian soldiers and noncombatant being abused and killed by Azerbaijani troops who overtook the area.
Another video, posted to a Telegram channel in early December, showed two soldiers in uniforms which resemble those of the Azerbaijani military pinning down an elderly man. One of the attackers then begins slicing at the victim’s throat. The video ends before the man’s head begins to separate from his neck.
That victim has been identified as Yuri Asryan, an 82-year-old man who also had refused to leave his village on October 20. His niece confirmed to the Guardian that the video did in fact show the killing of her uncle.
Another villager, who viewed the video and recognized his friend, stated “I felt terrible after watching it, my blood pressure was high, I couldn’t compose myself for a week after seeing that.”
The area has remained under Azerbaijani control per the conditions of the ceasefire agreement signed on November 9.
A spokesman for the Council of Europe’s Commissioner on Human Rights stated, after being asked to comment on the situation, “At this stage we can only say that the Commissioner has received videos and other material alleging human rights violations.
“Before expressing herself publicly, she wants to carry out a mission in order to assess the situation in first person. She is planning a mission to the region soon.”
— AlexanderCostopoulos (@AlexCosto) November 14, 2020