YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—A resident of an Armenian border village apprehended by Azerbaijani forces was reported dead on Friday one day after crossing into Azerbaijan in disputed circumstances.
The Defense Ministry in Baku said Karen Petrosian “suddenly” died in the morning. A ministry statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies claimed that “acute heart and lung failure” is the likely cause of his death. It said that forensic doctors in the western Azerbaijani city of Gyanja are now conducting an autopsy on the young man’s body.
Armenia’s government and military were quick to reject this theory and say that Petrosian was tortured to death. In a statement, a government commission dealing with Armenian prisoners of war, hostages and missing persons said that Petrosian never suffered from heart disease. It demanded an international forensic examination of his body.
“We didn’t expect anything different from the Azerbaijani propaganda machine,” said Artsrun Hovannisian, the Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman.
Officials in Yerevan and Chinari, a village in the northeastern Tavush province where Petrosian lived, insisted on Thursday that he crossed the Armenian-Azerbaijani border by accident.
Initial news reports from Baku said that Petrosian was detained by villagers in Azerbaijan’s Tovuz district bordering Tavush and handed over to military authorities. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed afterwards, however, that he is a member of an Armenian commando squad that tried unsuccessfully to conduct a cross-border sabotage attack. It said Azerbaijani troops captured him after killing four other Armenian soldiers. The Armenian military laughed off that claim.
Images released by the Azerbaijani authorities late on Thursday showed two masked men in army fatigues posing for a photograph with Petrosian. The latter wore army boots and a camouflage vest in that photo. Earlier pictures of the Armenian villagers, which were apparently taken by Azerbaijani civilians, showed him wearing sneakers and no pieces of military uniform.
Azerbaijani TV channels also broadcast video of Petrosian being taken to military headquarters in the town of Shamkir and interrogated there by an Azerbaijani general. “What do you all want from Azerbaijan?” the general asked the terrified man after accusing him of being an Armenian soldier sent to Azerbaijan for sabotage purposes.
“Please, take me back to Armenia, to my home,” pleaded Petrosian.
Petrosian’s death will rekindle memories of Manvel Saribekian, a 20-year-old resident of another Armenian border village who was captured by Azerbaijani soldiers in September 2010. A visibly injured Saribekian was paraded on Azerbaijani television, saying that he is a member of an Armenian commando squad that planned to carry out terrorist attacks in Azerbaijan.
Saribekian was found hanged in an Azerbaijani detention center shortly afterwards. The Azerbaijani authorities claimed that he committed suicide. The Armenian government said, however, that Saribekian was tortured to death or driven to suicide. Both the government and Saribekian’s family insisted that the young man was a civilian who accidentally crossed the Armenian-Azerbaijani border while grazing cattle.
Two residents of another Tavush village, Verin Karmiraghbyur, were detained on the Azerbaijani side of the frontier in separate incidents in January and March. They were freed after spending more than one month in captivity.
One of those villagers, the 77-year-old Mamikon Khojoyan, died in May after undergoing medical treatment in a Yerevan hospital. Doctors there said he suffered serious injuries in Azerbaijani custody.