Video Shows Azerbaijan Forces Executing Armenian POWs

Smoke plumes and burn scars emerging around the Mets Ishkhanasar Mountain, as of September 13 2022, 09:19 am CET (11:19 am local time) . Satellite image © 2022 Planet Labs PBC. Analysis and graphic © 2022 Human Rights Watch.

(Berlin, October 14, 2022) – The execution of Armenian prisoners of war (POWs), apparently by Azerbaijani forces during fighting between the countries in September 2022 is a war crime for which there needs to be accountability, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch analyzed a video posted on social media in early October showing the extrajudicial execution of at least seven Armenian POWs, apparently by Azerbaijani forces.

Azerbaijani authorities should ensure that the investigation opened by their prosecutor’s office is effective and leads to accountability for the soldiers and commanders responsible.

“Killing soldiers who have surrendered is a heinous war crime,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Azerbaijani authorities have opened an investigation that, in addition to leading to accountability, needs to be a key element in ensuring that such outrages never happen again.”

The killings took place during fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces that broke out in mid-September, when Azerbaijan made incursions into Armenia and along the border. The fighting was one of several breakdowns of the Russia-brokered 2020 truce that ended hostilities over the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

On October 2, Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General’s Office stated that the military prosecutor’s office had started a “comprehensive investigation” into the video of the executions to determine whether it was authentic, and if so “to identify the servicemen shown on them…. As a result of the investigation, legal measures will be taken.”

Human Rights Watch verified the 40-second video through a variety of techniques, including by consulting with weapons and medical experts, analyzing the language heard in the video, and using reverse search image engines to establish if the video had been posted online before mid-September.

The earliest appearance online of the video was on Telegram, posted just before midnight CET on October 1. It shows at least 15 soldiers, who appear to be Azerbaijani, rounding up a group of eight unarmed men wearing Armenian military uniforms. The camouflage pattern on the soldiers’ uniforms is consistent with the Azerbaijani army, but no insignia are recognizable. One soldier in an apparent Azerbaijani uniform is also wearing what appears to be a backpack with a radio in it, which further corroborates findings that they are Azerbaijani forces.