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Man's Death After Mysterious Border Crossing Sparks Row Between Baku, Yerevan

Azerbaijanis Recount Cross-Border Visit That Ended In Deathi
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August 11, 2014
Azerbaijanis living near the Armenian border recorded a brief video of an Armenian man who had wandered into their village on August 7. The villagers told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that they called the military, who came and detained the unarmed man, identified as 31-year-old Karen Petrosyan. One day later, Azerbaijani authorities announced that Petrosyan had died of heart failure while in detention. (RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service)

Azerbaijanis living near the Armenian border recorded a brief video of an Armenian man who had wandered into their village on August 7. The villagers told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that they called the military, who came and detained the unarmed man, identified as 31-year-old Karen Petrosyan. One day later, Azerbaijani authorities announced that Petrosyan had died of heart failure while in detention. (RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service)

By Claire Bigg

Anger is mounting in Armenia over the death of an Armenian citizen in Azerbaijani custody.

The man, identified as 31-year-old Karen Petrosyan, was detained on August 7 after mysteriously wandering into an Azerbaijani border village asking for a cup of tea.

One day later, Azerbaijani authorities announced that Petrosyan, whom they accuse of being an Armenian spy, had died of heart failure while in detention.

The incident has sparked furious reactions in Yerevan, where the Foreign Ministry has firmly condemned his death and accused Baku of violating international agreements.

Armenia's State Commission for Prisoners of War, Hostages, and Missing Persons has called for international experts to conduct an independent autopsy.

Just as with his death, the circumstances surrounding Petrosyan's appearance in the Azerbaijani village of Agbulaq remain unclear.

Armenian authorities insist Petrosyan is an ordinary civilian who inadvertently crossed the border, which in many areas is unmarked.

An elder in Petrosyan's home village of Chinari, on the Armenian side of the border in the country's northeast, says he had simply gone to fetch wood in the forest and got lost.

A video shot by Agbulaq residents and provided to RFE/RL shows a confused-looking Petrosyan talking to villagers.

Farida Tagiyeva, the first to spot him in Agbulaq, said she heard him call outside her house.

"I asked him what he was doing there, and he said 'tea, tea,'" she told RFE/RL. "Then I told my son there is an Armenian here, and my son started asking him: 'Why are you scaring my mother? What are you doing here?' The man said 'I have no weapon, don't worry.'"

Niyameddin Mammedov, another villager, confirmed that Petrosyan was unarmed and acted peacefully.

"As soon as he came, I shook his hand," Mammedov said. "Then I twisted his arm behind his back and checked his pockets for weapons or a knife. I didn't find anything. He showed that he didn't have any weapons and offered no resistance."

Mammedov said all Petrosyan had on him was a mobile phone, in which he found pictures of people in uniform. Petrosyan explained they were photos of his brother.

The villagers nonetheless contacted the Azerbaijani military.

When armed men came to take Petrosyan away, however, a scuffle erupted between the troops and local residents, some of whom have since voiced doubt about Baku's accusations against the 31-year-old. 

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry claims Petrosyan is a spy who entered the country with three other agents who died in a mine explosion while crossing the border. 

In clip published online, Petrosyan is seen being led, handcuffed and hooded, to a senior Azerbaijani military figure for questioning.

He is then seen on his knees, donning a military vest and boots that he did not wear in the footage shot upon his arrival in Agbulaq. 

The video shows an array of weapons allegedly seized from Petrosyan, who is shown confessing to being an Armenian agent. 

The same video is posted twice on YouTube, one from Armenia...

...and another from Azerbaijan, with wildly conflicting takes on the incident.

The Armenian Defense Ministry has rejected Baku's accusations and says Petrosyan's confession was obtained under torture.

The incident echoes the detention of an Azerbaijani man last month by Armenian forces in the disputed enclave of Nagorno Karabakh.

Footage was also posted online showing the man, 59-year-old Dilqam Agarov, being dragged handcuffed to his questioning in a strikingly similar scenario.

Agarov is still in custody. 

With contributions from RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service