POWs Discuss Azeri Treatment

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–The Armenian fund "Against Violation of Law," arranged a press conference Wednesday which included the recently released Armenian prisoners of war and hostages.

Sergey Hovakimian–who was taken prisoner with his nephew seven months ago and released on April 19–and Arvid Mangasarian–a soldier from the Berdadzor self-defense group who spent five years in custody and was freed in May 1996–were among the captives. Hovakimian said that he and his nephew were working in Nalchik when they learned about the death of his sister. In order for them to get to Yerevan as soon as possible–they took a bus to Minvody. There they hired a driver who agreed to give them a lift to Tbilisi. In Vladikavkaz the driver learned that his passengers needed to go to Yerevan and offered to take them there.

"We were driving at night. We could see nothing as we were being driven along the road. Before we knew it we were at an Azeri frontier post," Hovakimian said.

After a short time in prison in Kazakh the Hovakimians were sent to Baku–and then to the Gobustan camp–a high security colony where criminals sentenced from 5-10 years were serving their time. At that camp–according to Hovakimian–all Armenian hostages–including women and children–were ordered to perform hard labor. They were constructing a new prison building. According to Hovakimian–Armenia’s at that camp were continually subjected to beatings and degradation. He noted that when he was in prison in Kazakh one of the Azeris told him that they were sold by the Georgian driver for $3,000. "When I asked the chief at the Gobustan prison how I was taken prisoner–he praised the Georgian driver–saying that if there were more people like him–the construction of the new prison would be completed much quicker," Hovakimian said.

According to Larisa Alaverdian–Executive Director of the Fund Against Violation of Law–such instances prove that there is a black market where Armenian hostages are sold and purchased. Her words are confirmed by the fact that someone was repeatedly calling Hovakimian’s wife from Tbilisi asking her to come and solve the problem of her husband’s release in private.

Alaverdian said that there were several such precedents. Most ended tragically. After receiving ransom money from relatives–the extortioners did not return the hostages who were usually dead by that time.

The fact that Armenia’s were sold to the Azeri’s is confirmed by the tragic incidents reported by other hostages who were released to Armenia on April 19. While on vacation in Turkey–Larisa Kirakossian was taken in by a Turkish policeman and handed over to Azerbaijan.

According to the Fund–all 18 hostages and POWs that were returned in April and May of 1997–were victims of "the hunt for Armenia’s." Among the 12 civilians–two are women–one is a teenager and three are mentally disabled. They were all exposed to beatings and humiliation. Arvid Mangasarian explained how ruthless the Azeris were to Armenian prisoners. He was taken prisoner during operation "Ring" in 1991. During the five years he spent in captivity–he went through Shoushi prison–Shuvelian prison–was brought to trial–was sentenced to death–and later taken to Bailov prison.

"We were beaten five or six times a day–left hungry and thirsty. In the death sector at Bailov prison–we were fed crumbs from the tables of the Azeri criminals. In 1994–the representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross were allowed to visit us. We believed that we would survive although two of our comrades had already died from hunger and the beatings," Mangasarian said.

He said that as a matter of fact the ICRC had saved their lives by giving them medical assistance–providing them with food and clothes. Mangasarian said that he will never forget the new warden and the chief of the regime who were appointed in 1994. "They sympathized with Armenian prisoners. Their humanity is unforgettable."

Alaverdian said the government should take care of such people. World experience shows that victims of ethnic and political conflicts–violence and tortures should receive medical–moral and financial compensation.

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