NAGORNO-KARABAKH: Beating and 12 day imprisonment for Baptist soldier
Forum 18 News Service has been unable to reach V. Davidov, commanding officer of the unit in Hadrut of the army of the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh republic where Baptist conscript Gagik Mirzoyan was beaten and detained for more than ten days in early April before being transferred to an unknown location. Mirzoyan "is being persecuted for preaching the Gospel and because they found several Christian calendars in his possession," his relatives and friends told Forum 18 after meeting him at the unit just before his transfer. Mirzoyan has been threatened with a two year prison sentence.
Forum 18 has been unable to reach V. Davidov, commanding officer of Mirzoyan's former unit in Nagorno-Karabakh's south-eastern Hadrut region, to find out why he ordered or allowed one of his troops to be beaten and detained merely for expressing his faith and possessing religious calendars.
Forum 18 also tried to find out from the defence ministry why Mirzoyan has been punished, but an official at the ministry told Forum 18 from the capital Stepanakert on 15 April that the minister, General Seyran Ohanyan, was out of the office and that no-one else was immediately available. Telephones also went unanswered at Nagorno-Karabakh's foreign ministry.
On 11 April relatives and friends went to military unit 42009 in Hadrut to see Mirzoyan after hearing that he had been beaten and given ten days' detention at the guardhouse. "When we got there he had already been held under arrest for twelve days but still had not been freed," they told Forum 18. They reported that when they were able to see Mirzoyan the "results of beatings" were visible on his face. Military personnel at the base told the visitors that Mirzoyan would be freed the following day, 12 April, and they would then be able to talk to him.
Despite these promises, Mirzoyan continued to be detained and during the day was threatened by the head of the unit's political department and by an official of the prosecutor's office that a case against him would be drawn up, handed to the prosecutor's office and he would be sentenced to two years' imprisonment. Forum 18 has been unable to discover what charges are being or might be levelled against Mirzoyan.
"Through the grace of God we were later able to have a ten-minute meeting with brother Gagik and discovered that he is being persecuted for preaching the Gospel and because they found several Christian calendars in his possession," his relatives and friends told Forum 18. "Now he has been taken away to an unknown destination and they are not saying where he is and what has happened to him."
Mirzoyan was called up in December 2004. After refusing to serve with weapons and swear the military oath because of his faith he was beaten and pressured by the commander of the unit to which he was transferred and Fr Petros Yezegyan, the unit's Armenian Apostolic military chaplain. Both the defence minister, General Ohanyan, and Fr Yezegyan emphatically denied to Forum 18 that Mirzoyan had been beaten (see F18News 6 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=483).
The army later agreed that Mirzoyan could serve in a non-combat role and he was transferred to the unit in Hadrut region (see F18News 22 February 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=517).
Nagorno-Karabakh has no provision for alternative service for those who have religious or other conscientious objections to participating in the armed forces. On 16 February a court in Stepanakert handed down a four-year prison term to Areg Hovhanesyan, a Jehovah's Witness who had refused to serve because of his faith but had expressed a willingness to perform an alternative civilian service (see F18News 22 February 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=517). (END)
A printer-friendly map of the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=azerba within the map titled 'Azerbaijan'.
22 February 2005
Jehovah's Witness Areg Hovhanesyan has been jailed for four years, by a court in the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh republic, for refusing to do military service – even though he stated that he would do alternative, non-military, service. Lieutenant-General Seyran Ohanyan, the Defence Minister, insisted to Forum 18 News Service that "it doesn't depend on me – according to our law of Nagorno-Karabakh there is no alternative service, so they are sentenced in line with the law." But General Ohanyan noted that, in individual cases, provision has been made for religious conscientious objectors to do military service in non-combat roles. He quoted the case of a Baptist, Gagik Mirzoyan, who refused to fight in the army despite pressure from the Armenian Apostolic Church's military chaplain. "He is now serving (..) without arms and without swearing the military oath. Otherwise he's doing everything the other conscripts do. He's now content." Baptist sources, who preferred not to be identified, confirmed to Forum 18 that Mirzoyan was happy with his terms of service.
10 February 2005
Azerbaijan's Supreme Court has decided that a Jehovah's Witness can be forced to do military service – even though the constitution claims that "alternative service instead of regular army service is permitted." The court argued that, as no law on civilian alternative service exists, the appeal of Mahir Bagirov must be rejected. Azerbaijan has broken a promise to the Council of Europe to introduce a law by January 2003. Sayad Kirimov, deputy head of parliament's administrative and military law department, told Forum 18 News Service that "the Supreme Court can't use the absence of a law to deprive someone of their constitutional rights." Bagirov's lawyer told Forum 18 that the ruling will be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights. After this Supreme Court decision, Bagirov "expects to be arrested by the military police and disappear into a military barracks where he anticipates being subjected to brutal treatment as an alleged deserter."
6 January 2005
Armen Grigoryan, a religious conscientious objector who is seriously contemplating becoming a Jehovah's Witness, has been forcibly taken by the Armenian authorities from Armenia to a military unit in Nagorno-Karabakh, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. After he was beaten up, Grigoryan was forced to stand in his underwear in front of about 1,800 soldiers to tell them why he refused to do military service. "He told everyone present that his rejection was based on his religious beliefs and his study of the Bible," his father told Forum 18. This is the first instance known to Forum 18 of an Armenian religious conscientious objector being forcibly taken to a military unit in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia has repeatedly broken its promises to the Council of Europe on the treatment of conscientious objectors. Grigoryan has now escaped from the military and has written to the Armenian authorities from his hiding place, to say that he is prepared to do alternative civilian service.