Azeri POW Seeks Armenian Citizenship

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–An Azerbaijani soldier who crossed the border into Armenia in October appeared on television last week, saying that he will not return home and wants to stay in Armenia for good.

Rafik Hasanov reportedly crossed into Armenia from the westernmost section of its long and heavily militarized border with Azerbaijan on October 8. According to the Armenian military, the 19-year-old conscript willingly surrendered to its troops stationed there, citing systematic hazing at the hands of Azerbaijani army officers and fellow soldiers.

Armenian state television broadcast late Thursday excerpts from an interview which Hasanov said was videotaped the previous day at his own request. The Defense Ministry in Yerevan released the full transcript of the interview, translated from the Azerbaijani language, on Friday.

“I have willingly come to Armenia and am going to become an Armenian citizen,” declared Hasanov. “I will not return to Azerbaijan because they beat and humiliate me there.”

“I am treated well and receive medical assistance in Armenia, and I want to send my warm regards to my parents, relatives, friends and tell them not worry about me: they don’t beat me, they treat me well here,” he said before reading out a poem dedicated to his family.

It was not clear if Hasanov has also communicated his stated wish to stay in Armenia to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The latter usually visit Armenian and Azerbaijani prisoners of war and arrange their repatriations.

The Azerbaijani government and military did not immediately react to the development. While instances of Azerbaijani soldiers fleeing their units to avoid mistreatment by their commanders and comrades are reported on a regular basis, it is the first time that an Azerbaijani serviceman claims to be seeking permanent asylum in Armenia.

Hasanov claimed that he was beaten up in “almost daily” and shot himself in the foot to be transferred to a military hospital. He said his commanders continued to ill-treat him after he was discharged from the hospital and sent back his army unit deployed near the western Azerbaijani town of Gazakh.

“I am appealing to [Azerbaijani Defense Minister] Safar Abiev to inspect Gazakh’s 707th army brigade and, in particular, the fifth battalion and the first battalion’s outposts at Aslan Beyli, Gay Makhli and Kyamarli,” continued Hasanov. “Let them check and see why such things occur.”

Yaghub Mukhtarov, another Azerbaijani soldier serving in the Gazakh area, likewise alleged hazing at the hands of fellow soldiers and officers as he was taken prisoner by Armenian forces last March. Mukhtarov was repatriated to Azerbaijan with the help of the ICRC less than two months later.

Also, last February Armenia deported to an unnamed “European country” another Azerbaijani soldier captured in similar circumstances in January 2006. The soldier, Samir Mamedov, apparently refused to return home to avoid prosecution on treason charges. At least several Azerbaijani soldiers were reportedly handed lengthy prison sentences in recent years after returning from Armenian captivity.

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