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Armenian Captive Found Dead In Azerbaijan

In a video shown on Azerbaijani TV, Armenian captive Manvel Saribekian said he was on a military mission.
In a video shown on Azerbaijani TV, Armenian captive Manvel Saribekian said he was on a military mission.
YEREVAN -- An Armenian man detained in Azerbaijan last month in circumstances that remain unclear has been found dead in his prison cell, military authorities in Baku said, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

In a joint statement reported by local media, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry and the Military Prosecutor's Office claimed that Manvel Saribekian, 20, hanged himself early in the morning. It said forensic experts found no traces of violence on his body.

A senior Armenian official told RFE/RL's Armenian Service, however, that Saribekian was either beaten to death or "driven to suicide."

"Whatever happened, they would have claimed that he committed suicide," said Armen Kaprielian, head of a government commission on Armenian prisoners of war, civilian captives, and missing persons.

"In any case, we are talking about a crime, a brutal one," Kaprielian said. "We will do everything to have the Azerbaijani officials and bodies guilty of what happened brought to account."

The Armenian ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs have not commented on the death.

Herdsman Or Terrorist?

The Azerbaijani authorities say that Saribekian was captured on September 11 after crossing into northwestern Azerbaijan with an Armenian armed group tasked with carrying out armed "provocations."

The Armenian Defense Ministry denied these claims, saying that Saribekian was a civilian resident of Tutujur, a village in northeastern Armenia close to the Azerbaijani border, who completed his military service in May. It said Saribekian accidentally strayed into Azerbaijani territory while grazing cattle in the area.

The ministry also strongly condemned an interview with Saribekian that was aired by a government-controlled Azerbaijani TV channel later in September.

Saribekian, who had what looked a like bruise under his right eye, was shown saying that he was recruited by an Armenian security officer in Tutujur and underwent a two-month training course at a secret military camp together with several other men.

Saribekian claimed that they were sent into Azerbaijan on a mission to blow up a school in a village close to the Armenian border. He also said he told Azerbaijani troops who captured him, "Please don’t kill me, I'm a herdsman."

"I am more than convinced that he was coerced to say that," Kaprielian said about the video. He said Armenian soldiers and civilians kept in Azerbaijani captivity have, after being released, given harrowing accounts of torture.

Kaprielian added that his commission had asked the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baku to obtain more information about Saribekian's death.

He said he hoped that the body would be repatriated soon. "We have no official information from Baku yet," he added.

Instances of both Armenian and Azerbaijani civilians crossing the heavily militarized border between their countries, apparently after losing their way, are not uncommon.

In April, for example, Armenia repatriated an Azerbaijani man who was detained in its northern Tavush region last December. It remained unclear whether the 46-year-old Eldar Tagiyev crossed the border intentionally or by accident.

There has been a recent increase in cease-fire violations reported from the "line of contact" separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces to the east of Nagorno-Karabakh.

At least one Armenian and four Azerbaijani soldiers were killed on the northern section of the line of contact last month. Each side blamed the other for the deadly skirmishes.