Azerbaijani prosecutors have launched an investigation into alleged war crimes by both sides in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Harrowing videos circulating on social media appear to show unidentified uniformed men alongside beheaded and mutilated bodies as well as Azerbaijani soldiers taunting and torturing captured men.
One clip shows a soldier cutting the ears off dead bodies while others have emerged allegedly of Armenian soldiers defiling Azerbaijani war dead.
The videos have not yet been independently verified but if true would depict war crimes, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general said yesterday that his office was investigating abuses and inhumane treatment allegedly committed both by Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.
“There are many fake videos but we must say frankly that there also are videos which could be authentic,” said Kamran Aliyev.
HRW have denounced the clips as “horrific” and called for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation.
“These videos are awful - they are really gruesome,” associate director Giorgi Gogia told The Telegraph. “We have not verified the videos yet but the content is really alarming. They clearly depict war crimes.
“Execution, torture, humiliation and ill-treatment of civilians and prisoners of war are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. I have seen the desecration of the dead in this conflict, but this is a whole new level of violence.”
In an earlier statement, the Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan — an oil-rich, former Soviet nation ruled by the Aliyev regime since 1991 — said perpetrators would be identified and put on trial. Experts, however, cast doubt on Baku’s willingness to bring its own soldiers to justice.
“Azerbaijan does not have a great track record of investigating itself,” added Gogia. “We have a ceasefire but we don’t have peace yet in the region. For any lasting peace, there must be accountability.”
During the conflict, Azerbaijan and Armenia have repeatedly traded accusations of war crimes. Last month Amnesty International reported that both sides had fired banned cluster bombs into civilian areas, branding the use of these indiscriminate weapons as “cruel and reckless”.
Another video released during the war also appeared to show the execution of two Armenian prisoners-of-war by Azerbaijani forces. While Azerbaijani officials claimed it was faked, the international investigative outlet Bellingcat concluded the video was likely genuine after analysing and geolocating its footage.
Earlier this month as fighting intensified, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that indiscriminate attacks in populated areas were in violation of international humanitarian law.
“Homes have been destroyed, streets reduced to rubble, and people forced to flee or seek safety in basements,” said Michelle Bachelet. “International humanitarian law cannot be clearer. Attacks carried out in violation of the principle of distinction or the principle of proportionality may amount to war crimes.”
News of the investigation emerged as Azerbaijan’s army was last night pushing deeper into Nagorno-Karabakh’s Kalbajar district. It is the second of three areas ceded by ethnic Armenian forces under a Russian-enforced peace deal that ended six weeks of deadly fighting in the separatist territory earlier this month.
Azerbaijani troops and military trucks were filmed slowly moving through winding, mountain passes in heavy snow while sappers swept for landmines to clear the way.
Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan nearly 30 years ago. Decades of occasional skirmishes erupted into conflict in late September, resulting in the deaths of thousands.
The Azerbaijani offensive was halted by a Moscow-brokered ceasefire as its military appeared poised to overwhelm Armenian separatists and advance on Stepanakert, the regional capital.
Under the agreement, Armenia is losing control of several districts seized during the post-Soviet war in the 1990s. That conflict killed 30,000 people and displaced large numbers of Azerbaijanis who may look to return in the coming weeks and months.