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 Tuesday, May 17 2022 17:26
Marianna Mkrtchyan

Amnesty International publishes reports on violations of rights of  older people due to conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh

Amnesty International publishes reports on violations of rights of  older people due to conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh

ArmInfo.Amnesty International released reports on the violation of the rights of older people from the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the  Nagorno-Karabakh territory has caused decades of misery for older  people," Amnesty International said in two new reports published  today.  "The conflict - first fought from 1988 to 1994, and then  during another escalation in late 2020 - sawolder people unlawfully  killed, tortured, and forcibly displaced; abuses which have marked  their lives ever since. 

One report, Last to Flee: Older People's Experience of War Crimes and  Displacement in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, documents how older  ethnic Armenians were disproportionately subjected to violence in the  recent conflict, including war crimes such as extrajudicial  executions, as well as torture and other ill-treatment while in  Azerbaijani detention.

The other report, 'Life in a Box': Older People's Experiences of  Displacement and Prospects for Return in Azerbaijan, details the  suffering experienced by older Azerbaijanis who were forced from  their homes in Nagorno- Karabakh and seven surrounding districts  during the first conflict.

"The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh highlights the unique risks that  older people face in armed conflicts. Often the last to flee, they  also suffer the consequences of war for decades on end," said Laura  Mills, Researcher on Older People with Amnesty International's Crisis  Response team.

"In both Armenia and Azerbaijan, older people have struggled to  rebuild their lives in displacement - yet their loss of independence  and dignity is treated as inevitable or irrelevant.

"With tensions high - and further conflict still possible - both  Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities should make clear and firm  commitments to prioritize the protection of older people, and ensure  their human rights, including rights to housing and health, are  protected." The first report, Last to Flee:  "When active fighting  broke out in Nagorno- Karabakh in September 2020, older people in  ethnic Armenian communities were almost invariably last to flee their  homes, and were disproportionately impacted by violence as a result.

During the early stages of the conflict, men aged between 18 and 55  were typically mobilized to fight or to serve the war effort as  volunteers. By the time Azerbaijani forces advanced on ethnic  Armenian villages and towns, the only people remaining were often  older people, and particularly older men.

Many older people encountered obstacles while trying to leave.  Physical disabilities and health problems made it difficult for some  to flee. In other cases, some older people with psychosocial  disabilities or dementia found it difficult to comprehend the  necessity or urgency of leaving. Others chose not to leave because  they had strong attachments to their homes, or were reluctant to  abandon land or livestock. 

Older people who fled their homes have languished in displacement in  the years since. They reported a lack of access to adequate housing  and a loss of livelihoods, which further entrenched feelings of  helplessness and isolation.  They also suffer due to an extreme lack  of mental health or psychosocial support services.

On the ethnic Armenian side, more than half of civilian deaths were  among older people. Many interviewees told Amnesty International of  extrajudicial executions by Azerbaijani forces. They described  killings where victims were beheaded or shot at point-blank range,  constituting the war crime of wilful killing. Some appeared to have  been tortured prior to their deaths, and some corpses were mutilated  afterwards. 

Amnesty International was able to verify many of these cases through  testimony from witnesses and relatives, as well as by reviewing and  verifying death certificates, official forensic examinations  undertaken by the Armenian authorities, and videos posted to social  media.

Slavik Galstyan, 68, who lived with his family in the village of Mets  Tagher and had a psychosocial disability, did not want to leave his  home in October 2020.  His body was found more than two months later.  A death certificate issued by the Armenian authorities concluded that  his death was caused by traumatic blood loss from gunshot wounds to  his chest, stomach, and other internal organs. 

His son, Ashot, identified the corpse at the morgue and said his  father's body appeared to have been mutilated. Ashot told Amnesty  International: "His head was crushed. It was as if all the bones in  his body had been broken. He was like a [slab of] meat."

Sedrak Petrosyan, 90, was brutally kicked and beaten while in  captivity, and his 56-year-old son went missing after being taken  into Azerbaijani custody.  He said: "I want to die. I wanted to die  in prison but somehow I survived."

Other interviewees reported beatings and other forms of physical  violence - and in one case, a mock execution - and other  ill-treatment. Older men appear to have been targeted because  Azerbaijani soldiers believed they had participated in Armenia's war  effort during the 1990s.

"The Azerbaijani government must ensure that any members of its armed  forces responsible for the war crimes committed - including willful  killings, torture or inhuman treatment, or enforced disappearances -  are prosecuted in fair trials," said Laura Mills.

"While displacement can be devastating to all people, it poses  particular challenges for older people. The Armenian government and  de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh must do more to ensure that  older people are able to rebuild their lives on an equal basis with  others. They must also reform their approach to humanitarian  response, to ensure that older people are provided with much-needed  support." 

The second report, Life in the Box: During the initial conflict over  Nagorno- Karabakh from 1988 to 1994, more than half-a-million ethnic  Azeri civilians from the region and seven surrounding districts were  forcibly displaced. Many civilians, including older Azeri civilians,  were unlawfully killed and subjected to other violence. Those who  were displaced have lived in other parts of Azerbaijan ever since.

For decades, many lived in overcrowded tent camps, dormitories and  schools, or abandoned railway cars, sheds, or buildings. They shared  toilets and showers with dozens of people, and sometimes lived  without electricity, heat, or running water. They struggled to meet  their basic needs, or pay for food and medication.

In 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed much of the territory lost in the  initial conflict, and there are plans to resettle potentially  hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. However, there are  significant barriers to doing so: Armenian forces laid anti-personnel  landmines on a massive scale, and also committed and oversaw the  widespread destruction and seizure of property.

Many older people raised concerns about returning permanently to  their home regions. Mehriban M, 72, told Amnesty International: "I  have huge security concerns when it comes to living close to  Armenians. There is lots of trauma between our two nations. I know  lots of people who were killed."

Despite significant progress in recent years, it is estimated that as  many as 100,000 displaced people still live in difficult conditions  in informal housing in Azerbaijan. These residences are overcrowded  and often difficult to physically access, meaning that older people  are forced to rely on assistance from relatives or others simply to  leave their homes. 

Manzar A, an 81-year-old displaced woman living in a dormitory, told  Amnesty International: "This is like a prison, there is no air: I  can't go downstairs to buy food. I cannot go out. If I really need  to, people have to help me."

Amnesty International also spoke to older people who said that they  had virtually no employment opportunities, or felt excluded from  resettlement conversations.

Famil M, 71, said: "Right now I'm just waiting around: Seventy is  nothing, I don't feel old and I'm perfectly fit. But every company  tells me I'm too old."

Malik C, 67, said: "I feel that my opinion is not heard because I  don't participate anywhere now. As a pensioner I spend most of my  days in the garden. Nobody knows [my home village] better than me,  but strategy is formed by people from Baku."

Amnesty International is calling on the Azerbaijani government to  ensure any process of return fully respects the rights and needs of a  diverse range of older people, including older women, older people  with disabilities, and that all older people are meaningfully  included in decisions related to returns and provided information  transparently and accessibly, so that they can make informed,  voluntary decisions.

"All displaced persons have the right to return to their original  homes in conditions of dignity and security, and the unique risks to  older people must be taken into consideration. The Azerbaijani  authorities must ensure they have access to appropriate housing and  can earn a living on an equal basis with others," said Laura Mills.

"The Armenian forces' destruction of civilian objects and seizure of  civilian property, as well as their widespread use of landmines,  violate international humanitarian law. Not only do these violations  continue to undermine the right to return of displaced people, they  pose a serious obstacle for Azerbaijan's efforts to resettle  displaced populations in conflict-affected regions," she added.

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