Editor’s note: This piece contains descriptions of graphic imagery.
On the morning of October 15, 2020, video footage from the village of Hadrut in Nagorno-Karabakh emerged of Azeri soldiers capturing and later executing two Armenian soldiers. Mistreatment and murder of prisoners of war is prohibited under the Third Geneva Convention and is considered a war crime.
The evidence came in the form of two videos, one depicting the capture of two men in Armenian uniforms –one elderly, and one of more common fighting age — in the northern outskirts of Hadrut. The other video showed Azeri soldiers executing the same two men, bound and draped in the Armenian and self-declared Republic of Artsakh flags, in a square in southern Hadrut. Both videos spread like wildfire through social media and Telegram channels pertaining to the ongoing war in Karabakh.
The DFRLab confirmed the location of the first video in the northern part of town by cross-referencing building shapes with the presumed camera location.
The first video shows Azeri soldiers approaching two men in camouflage clothing that appears consistent with the camouflage patterns worn by Armenian soldiers. The Azeri soldiers yell at the two men in Russian, a language widely understood in the-post-Soviet South Caucasus region. After failing to get down on command, the elderly man is thrown to the ground and threatened by a man with an SVD sniper rifle. The camera pans to the other man wearing a blue shirt, laying on the ground while surrounded by Azeri soldiers.
The other video showed the two men in Hadrut Park, a square in the southern part of Hadrut, their arms bound behind their backs and adorned with the flags of Armenia and the self-declared Republic of Artsakh. The elderly man’s face was bloodied and barely able to sit on the stoop he has been placed on, next to the man in the blue shirt.
About five seconds into the video, gunmen off-camera riddle the two men with bullets as they fall to the ground. The shooting does not stop although the men lie on the ground lifeless, and the video cuts abruptly.
The videos were too low-quality to positively identify any of the individuals in the videos, but equipment worn by the men in the video were consistent with what would be expected from soldiers on each respective side.
The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan stated that videos of “the alleged cruel treatment of Armenian POWS by servicemembers of the Azerbaijani army were “fabricated by the Armenians themselves to attract the attention of the international community” and were “of a provocative nature.” The statement was widely reported on by several Azerbaijani media outlets.
One of the soldiers in the first video the DFRLab examined, however, was seen with equipment characteristic of the Azeri regular army. This included a Turkish digital pattern uniform paired with a flak jacket in woodland camouflage. Note that the uniform in the above reference image appears slightly different because it is in a cold-weather variant.
The DFRLab will continue to monitor significant developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Michael Sheldon is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the DFRLab.
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