YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–An Armenian citizen who died in Azerbaijani captivity last month was tortured before being found dead in his prison cell, forensic investigators in Armenia have determined in a preliminary probe after a prisoner swap Thursday brought home the 20-year-old captive’s corps.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General issued a written statement on Friday saying they have found evidence that the death 20-year-old Manvel Saribekyan in Azerbaijani captivity last month was the result of a “premeditated murder.”
He was reportedly found hanged in a detention center in Azerbaijan on October 5 nearly one month after being captured on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Saribekian’s partly decomposed corpse underwent a forensic examination after being handed over by Azerbaijan on Thursday through an International Committee of the Red Cross mediated POW exchange. “According to the preliminary results of the forensic examination, there are signs of violence on the body, which confirms that Manvel Saribekian was inhumanly tortured,” the Prosecutor-General said in a written statement.
The statement added that the Armenian police have opened a criminal case under an article of Armenia’s Criminal Code dealing with “premeditated murder committed with particular brutality.
Shortly after his capture, Saribekian, was shown on Azerbaijani television saying that he was recruited by an Armenian security officer and underwent a two-month training course at a secret military camp together with several other men.
Saribekian, who had what looked like a bruise under his right eye, claimed that they were sent to Azerbaijan on a mission to blow up a school in a village close to the Armenian border. At the same time, he said he told Azerbaijani troops that captured him, “Please don’t kill me, I’m a shepherd.”
The Armenian Defense Ministry condemned the interview as a violation of international conventions. It said Saribekian was forced to make a false confession sought by the Azerbaijani authorities.
Armenian authorities said Saribekian was a resident of Tutujur, a village in northeastern Armenia close to the Azerbaijani border, who strayed into Azerbaijani territory while grazing cattle on September 11.
Saribekyan’s body was swapped Thursday for Eldar Tagirov an Azerbaijani civilian, who was sent back home about one year after crossing into Armenia in still unclear circumstances.
The prisoner exchange was facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It came one week after the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents agreed to swap all prisoners of war (POWs) and the bodies of each other’s citizens kept by them. The agreement was reached during their fresh talks hosted by Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev in the Russian city of Astrakhan.
The exchange went ahead after radio negotiations between Armenian and Azerbaijani military commanders on the ground. “During the exchange, the ceasefire regime will not be violated in the territory under my control and I am giving security guarantees to all representatives,” an Azerbaijani officer could be heard saying in Russian over the radio.
“I, the local commander, am giving security guarantees to Red Cross representatives present here and am guaranteeing ceasefire,” replied his Armenian opposite number.
“It is always very sad to have to bring bad news or repatriate a body,” Melany Vonrospach, an ICRC delegate in Yerevan who participated in the repatriation, said afterwards.
Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Davit Karapetian told reporters at the scene that Saribekian’s body will be examined by forensic experts before being handed over to his family. “Manvel Saribekian’s body will undergo a medical-forensic examination, the results of which will be relayed to the public as soon as possible,” he said.
“We expect Azerbaijan to demonstrate the same kind of determination and repatriate Armenian prisoners of war kept in Azerbaijani captivity,” added the official.
Azerbaijan is currently holding six Armenian POWs. According to the Defense Ministry in Yerevan, there are presently two Azerbaijani POWs in Nagorno-Karabakh and none in Armenia proper.
Also, the Karabakh Defense Forces have yet to repatriate at least one Azerbaijani corpse. Baku says the body of another Azerbaijani soldier, who was killed in June and posthumously declared a “national hero,” is also held by them.
“The power to repatriate those Azerbaijanis rests with Nagorno-Karabakh’s authorities,” said Karapetian. “They are now in negotiations with Red Cross representatives.”
The ICRC effectively confirmed that. “The organization is currently involved in discussions on repatriating other internees and human remains in both directions, including the remains of two Azerbaijani soldiers recently killed in the area along the Line of Contact,” it said in a written statement.
“We would like to reiterate that in our capacity as a neutral intermediary, we stand ready to facilitate repatriations,” the Red Cross director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Pascale Meige Wagner, was quoted as saying. “However, we must stress that the ICRC only repatriates a released detainee after it has confirmed that the person is returning to their home country of their own free will.”
The Red Cross has long been involved in Armenian-Azerbaijani prisoner exchanges. Last April, it helped to repatriate an Azerbaijani POW and the remains of two other Azerbaijani soldiers killed in Armenian territory earlier this year.