Karabakh Court Sentences Azerbaijani Saboteurs

Shahbaz Quliyev (right) and Dilgam Askerov (third from left), Azerbaijani men charged by Karabakh's authorities with sabotage, stand trial in Stepanakert, on Oct. 27 (RFE/RL phot

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)—A court in Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday sentenced one Azerbaijani man to life imprisonment and another to 22 years in prison on charges stemming from the murder of an Armenian teenager which led to their high-profile arrests in July.

In a verdict condemned by Azerbaijan’s government, Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Quliyev were convicted of illegal border crossing and arms possession, espionage and kidnapping. Askerov, who was jailed for life, was also found guilty of killing Smbat Tsakanian, a 17-year-old Armenian resident of the Kelbajar district sandwiched between Armenia and Karabakh.

Quliyev and Askerov were separately captured by Karabakh Armenian security forces in July after crossing into Kelbajar together with another Azerbaijani, Hasan Hasanov. Hasanov was gunned down several days later, moments after reportedly opening fire at a military vehicle that carried an Armenian army officer and a civilian. The officer, Sargis Abrahamian, was killed while the 37-year-old woman, Karine Davtian, gravely wounded.

The shootings were reported four days before Tsakanian was found dead. The Karabakh authorities believe that he was taken hostage and killed by the Azerbaijani “saboteurs.”

Quliyev, 46, and Askerov, 54, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge when they went on trial in Stepanakert in October. Each of them claimed to have had no part in the boy’s killing which the prosecution says was committed with an assault rifle confiscated from Askerov.

During his cross-examination in the Karabakh court last month, Askerov said he did not fire the fatal gunshots and even tried unsuccessfully to convince his companions to spare Tsakanian’s life. He referred to Quliyev as a “very bad person” who was recruited by Azerbaijani special services to infiltrate Kelbajar. Quliyev dismissed those claims as a lie.

During the trial the prosecution publicized what it considers another key piece of evidence: amateur video that was shot by Askerov in the days leading up to his arrest. It shows the two other Azerbaijanis and Tsakanian walking through a forest in the mountainous district.

Askerov can be heard saying from behind the camera, “We have captured a piglet. He is about 20 years old and doesn’t speak Azerbaijani. We can’t let him go because he would denounce us. Let’s go and see what happens.”

Commenting on the footage, Askerov claimed that he and the other Azerbaijanis did not kidnap Tsakanian from his home in a remote Kelbajar farm. He said they only asked the teenager to show them the way to the town of Kelbajar.

The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly denounced the trial as illegal and demanded the release of both men. It says that that they had a legitimate right to visit what is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan that has been under Karabakh Armenian control since 1993.

The Foreign Ministry in Baku stood by this position in its official reaction to the court verdict voiced later on Monday. “The ‘trial’ held in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan has no legal force,” Hikmet Hajiyev, a ministry spokesman, said, according to the APA news agency. Hajiyev said Baku will continue to press the international community to secure the release of the two “hostages.”

The authorities in Stepanakert have rejected such claims before. They say that the arrested Azerbaijanis cannot be treated like prisoners of war because their “brutal and inhuman” actions targeted a civilian.


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  1. boghos jermag said:

    A certain man who is a locksmith, Burbank community activist, Glendale activist getting rid of ANCA members in Glendale City Hall, hunger striker, Policy Forum Armenia member, and author of a “white paper” titled “To Donate or Not to Donate,” [Locksmith] has been campaigning against Armenia Fund.

    Locksmith has already harassed Robert Avetisyan, who is the representative of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the United States of America. Locksmith has also been quoted favorably by the Azeri press several times for his continuing vitriol against Karabakh.

    There is a very strong probability that Locksmith is gearing up to protest the Armenian Consulate in Glendale over the Karabakh Court sentencing of Azerbaijani saboteurs.

  2. Norin said:

    These two will never be released under any international effort, the courts of Arstakh have passed their verdict after a fair and impartial trial, which was far more than what those innocent Armenian shepherds got when they were captured as civilians that had done nothing. Lock them up and throw away the key.

  3. Sarkis said:

    ”they had a legitimate right to visit what is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan ” but they did not even know the way around so ”asked the teenager to show them the way to the town of Kelbajar”.

    As we are not stupid to believe such explanations so as much the international community. Based on the Azeri logic we Armenians have the right to cross the Turkish border, kidnap and kill locals around the city of Kars. After all it is part of Armenia that was occupied by the Turks around 1920 and we were just asking them to show us the way to the fortress .

  4. Vahe said:

    This is how Azeris would treat Armenians if Azeris were ever let back into Artsakh. Azeris would make trouble and kill Armenians.

    The “return of refugees” is a formula for trouble, and it does not matter what agreements or “guarantees” are in place.

    That is the best solution for both peoples: no return of Azeri refugees to Artsakh.