YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Grieving relatives of the Armenian man who died in Azerbaijani captivity this week joined official Yerevan on Thursday in insisting that he was a civilian, rather than a military serviceman sent to Azerbaijan on a sabotage mission.
Some of them also said that Armenia’s government did not do enough to free and repatriate Manvel Saribekian before he was found hanged in an Azerbaijani detention facility.
The Azerbaijani authorities claimed that the 20-year-old “saboteur” committed suicide and had no traces of violence on his body. Armenian officials dismissed these claims, saying that he was tortured to death or “driven to suicide.”
They also said that Saribekian was a civilian resident of Tutujur, a border village in the northeastern Gegharkunik province, demobilized from the Armenian army four months before being captured by Azerbaijani troops in the area. They say he crossed a nearby section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier by accident.
Saribekian’s mother, Siranush Balian, and other close relatives, confirmed this as they spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service in Tutujur. They said that the young man had scraped a modest living for his impoverished family by selling firewood since ending his military service in May. They said he went missing on September 11 after going to a nearby forest to collect more firewood and graze the family’s sole cow in the process.
“Please, bring my son back dead or alive,” cried Balian. “This is all I am asking for … My heart tells me that my child is alive.”
The mother of four also pleaded with the Armenian military to demobilize her second son currently serving in the army. “We have no breadwinner anymore,” she said. “Can they free my other son from the army?”
Saribekian’s aunt, Emma Balian, charged that the Armenian government is also responsible for his death. “They could negotiate [with Azerbaijan] and reach agreement and swap the boy with Azerbaijani prisoners of war, but they failed to do that,” she told RFE/RL. “Facts show that our leadership didn’t deal with the matter,” she claimed.
According to Balian, Saribekian’s father was not allowed into the Armenian Defense Ministry when he traveled to Yerevan late last month to inquire about his son’s whereabouts. “They told him to come back in three months,” she said.
Meanwhile, the political parties represented in Armenia’s parliament urged on Thursday the United Nations, the European Union and other international bodies to condemn Saribekian’s treatment by Azerbaijan. In a joint appeal initiated by the opposition Heritage party, they also demanded an international forensic examination of Saribekian’s body that would involve Armenian experts.
“Azerbaijan’s sense of impunity is reaching new heights,” Stepan Safarian, a Heritage deputy, told RFE/RL.
Whether the body will be sent back to Armenia anytime soon is not yet clear. The International Committee of the Red Cross reiterated through a Yerevan spokesman that it is holding “confidential” negotiations on the matter with Azerbaijani officials.