BAKU (RFE/RL)–The body of an Armenian captive who dided in Azeri custody earlier this month has not yet been handed over to Armenia, according to a representative of an Armenian government committee dealing with prisoner affairs.
The man, Manvel Saribekian, was found hanged in his prison cell on October 5 nearly a month after being captured by Azerbaijani troops in circumstances disputed by the sides.
While pledging to investigate the death, 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 insist that Saribekian was a civilian resident of an Armenian border village who accidentally strayed into Azerbaijani territory.
Armen Gabrielian, the head of a working group at the Armenian government-affiliated committee dealing with issues of prisoners, hostages and missing persons, said in an RFE/RL interview on Friday that until now the Azerbaijani side has not given the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) even a certificate confirming Saribekian’s death, something, he insists, it ought to have done.
Gabrielian says such behavior constitutes “a gross violation” of international humanitarian law.
He also said that the Azerbaijani side categorically refuses to have direct negotiations with the Armenian side over the return of Saribekian’s body, while the ICRC office in Baku, which is a mediator between the parties, “is having problems.”
“The Azerbaijani authorities raise obstacles to the international organization’s employees and impede their work,” said Gabrielian, reminding that before Saribekian’s death Azerbaijan, too, had not allowed Red Cross officials to visit the Armenian captive.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan maintains that Armenia has not yet returned the body of an Azerbaijani soldier killed in a June firefight in Karabakh, where skirmishes and armed clashes intensified in the past four months amid a faltering peace process.
The soldier, Mubariz Ibrahimov, died along with four Armenian servicemen in what the Armenian side says was an Azerbaijani attack on a Karabakh army outpost in the disputed territory.
In late July, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev bestowed the posthumous title of “national hero” on Ibrahimov and ordered his government to name a school and a street after him.
The Armenian Defense Ministry has until now referred all Azerbaijani inquiries about Ibrahimov’s body to Karabakh’s Defense Army.
Authorities in Stepanakert, meanwhile, insist that they are not holding the body and that “the individual died in neutral territory.”
Catholicos Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, reportedly met with President Serzh Sarkisian late last month to discuss the return of the killed Azeri soldier’s body after an appeal to him made earlier by Azerbaijan’s Shia Muslim leader, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, through Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, to assist in the repatriation.