Armenian illegality in microcosm – remembering Dilham and Shahbaz, one year on

Press Release: As the population of the world – regardless of creed – come together with family and friends at this festive time, it is worth remembering the fate of two men and their families, for whom this period is filled with hopelessness and pain. On 29 December, all Azerbaijanis and those who believe in human rights and the maintenance of international law remember the first anniversary of the harsh verdicts passed against Dilham Asgarov (aged 54) and Shahbaz Guliyev (aged 46), two men who were jailed for life and 22 years, respectively, by an illegal and unrecognised court in Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh for the alleged ‘crime’ of visiting their ancestors’ graves.

In June 2014, Dilham and Shahbaz made a pilgrimage to the graves – as they had done many times before – in Kelbajar, an Azerbaijani region that has remained under Armenian occupation for more than 20 years. Travelling with a third friend, named Hasan Hasanov (aged 38), they were ambushed by Armenian armed forces. Hasan was murdered, and Dilham and Shahbaz were taken hostage on their own homeland. After three weeks of negotiations masterminded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the corpse of Hasan was returned to his family for burial. The ICRC is continuing to monitor the conditions under which Dilham and Shahbaz are being held, together with their health.

The incarceration of Dilham and Shahbaz – in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention – has been universally condemned. Subsequently, the issue of the trial and imprisonment of the men was raised in Strasbourg at the Spring Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The detention violates the European Convention on Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law, the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and ignores Armenia’s commitment to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Victoria Nuland, Assistant US Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, has requested that these men should be immediately freed. Federica Mogherini, Vice-President, European Commission and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, condemned this as an unlawful act, given that they are civilians.

The arrest, ‘trial’ and incarceration of these men clearly subverts the concept of international law, and their human suffering gives a face to a conflict that has continued for so long, yet remains overlooked and forgotten by the mass of the international community. Armenia has occupied nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory for 20 years. Despite four UN Security Council resolutions being passed against the occupation, it continues to this day. The decision of the occupying Armenian forces to take Azerbaijanis as hostages on their own rightful homeland demonstrates Armenia’s continuing provocative stance.