Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia 1997
Executive Summary


  • Between 1990 and 1996 Azeri authorities and some Azeri civilians participated in institutionalised hostage-taking and torture of ethnic Armenian children and adults.

  • Testimonial evidence suggests that the Azeri authorities murdered imprisoned ethnic Armenians

  • 90% of former hostages tested showed evidence of clinically significant psychiatric sequelae

  • The Azeri government violated International Treaties acceded to by Azerbaijan.
  • Recommendations:

  • All current prisoners must be returned to their country of origin and deaths in custody acknowledged.

  • The practice of hostage taking and torture must end.

  • The long-term suffering of those abducted and tortured should be recognised and appropriate reparation made.

  • Those responsible for hostage taking and torture of ethnic Armenians must be brought to justice and punished.

  • Ethical standards of treatment of prisoners should be devised, implemented and monitored.

  • The international community should facilitate the negotiation of a fair and lasting peace between both sides of this conflict

  • The flagrant abuse of human rights documented in this report should influence international relations between Azerbaijan and the international community, so as to facilitate change.
  • Introduction

    In late 1997 four members of Physicians for Human Rights (UK) travelled to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh to investigate allegations of hostage taking and torture of ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan, and to assess the effect of any such experiences on their health. The team comprised a retired general practitioner, a physician/psychoanalyst specialising in torture victims, a physician/psychiatrist and a mental health social worker.

    The conflict.

    The longest-running conflict in the former Soviet Union, the battle for Nagorno Karabakh expanded and intensified since it began in 1988, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 25,000 soldiers and civilians and the displacement of one million others. A cease-fire was achieved in May 1994 but ICRC found that in 1996 hardly a week went by without skirmishes along the front lines.

    Human Rights Watch report that during the conflict, the armies of the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, and the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, all committed violations of the rules of war. Such offences include forced displacement, looting and burning of homes, hostage taking and holding, mistreatment and summary executions of prisoners of war, and indiscriminate use of air power against civilian targets.


    In late 1997 four members of Physicians for Human Rights (UK) travelled to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh to investigate allegations of hostage taking and torture of ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan, and to assess the effect of any such experiences on their health. The team comprised a retired general practitioner, a physician/psychoanalyst specialising in torture victims, a physician/psychiatrist and a mental health social worker.

    67 subjects selected by an Armenian human rights organisations (FAVL) and the Internal Affairs department in Stepanakert were interviewed. 50 were physically examined (the remainder either declining or physical examination being considered unnecessary). A random sample of 22 completed a the Trauma Symptom Inventory questionnaire and 36 The Trauma Belief Inventory self rating questionnaire.

    Characteristics of the 67 subjects:

    Subjects’ ages ranged from one to 73 at the time of abduction – three were under 7 and three were aged 13,14 or 16 years. 26 subjects were soldiers. The remaining 36 were civilians, of whom nearly a third (11) were women.


    General information

    1. All 67 subjects had been imprisoned in Azerbaijan. Most were held at some stage in a prison or equivalent official place of detention and 20 were additionally held by civilians.

    2. Equal proportions of three quarters of the subjects were abducted from either Azerbaijan or Nagorno Karabakh. Two who taken in Georgia and one arrested in Ukraine were sold to Azeris, and a woman arrested in Turkey was transferred to Azerbaijan.

    3. Six of the 26 soldiers were captured after the war ended in May 1994 - and were therefore hostages.

    4. Of the 67 subjects, roughly equal one fifth segments were detained for periods of: up to 3 months, 3 to 6 months, 6 to 12 months 12 to 24 months and 24 to 60 months.

    5. Those held by civilians had been bought from Azeri authorities specifically to be exchanged for relatives held by Armenians. The hostages held by Azeri civilians were generally better treated than those in held by authorities, yet still lived under a continual threat of violence.

    Torture (physical)

    6. All 67 (or in the case of 4 youngest children, the parents) gave credible testimonies of abduction and captivity lasting between 2 weeks and five years, during which all 67 had been subjected to varying degrees of both physical and non-physical torture.

    7. All but one of the 67 subjects were beaten on one or more ocassions. Three, (including the two youngest, aged one and three) were beaten at arrest only. Of the remainder most were beaten frequently, often daily and initially several times daily. The beatings were systematic in some cases - administered at the same time and is the same way every day. The beatings were sometimes administered by specially trained soldiers, by other prisoners (Armenian and Azeri), and sometimes by Azeri women prisoners or civilians. Beatings were usually administered to the kidney areas, back and limbs by gauchuks (rubber truncheon) or other weapons.

    8. 17, a quarter of the subjects, admitted to being subjected to sexual violence. Given that a significant proportion of victims subjected to sexual violence cannot acknowledge the experience to anyone else, the figures are inevitably an underestimate. It was considered likely that at least a further 20, over half the subjects, had been subjected to sexual violence, by interviewers experienced at picking up testimonial clues.

    3 subjects suffered penetrative rape: 2 men, and a woman who was repeatedly raped. 9 men and 3 women, a fifth of the adult subjects, were subjected to attempted rape (some who resisted rape were heavily beaten for resisting). 2 women had oral sex forced upon them. 5 men were forced to perform fellatio. 16 men declined to specify at least some detail of sexual violence.

    The sexual perpetrators were usually Azeris, either guards or fellow prisoners, but on some occasions fellow Armenian were forced to perform sexual acts on each other.

    Threats of sexual violence was very common.

    9. Many other forms of physical torture were perpetrated on the subjects, the most common being 15 (one quarter of adults) subjected to cigarette burns and 13 (one fifth) to electric shocks. 6 (10% of adults) subjects refused to describe their torture because it was too upsetting.

    Torture (non-physical)

    10.The subjects found the sense of helplessness and threat of violence terrifying. One man was subjected to mock execution, one had a gun held to his head and another was forced to walk through a minefield. Repeated exposure to deliberately threatening and humiliating acts was a major source of stress.

    Subjects either passively witnessed, or were deliberately forced to witness, 35 itemised atrocities perpetrated on fellow prisoners including rape, beatings and murder.

    11. 10 subjects described doctors taking part in physical maltreatment or deliberate medical mistreatment of patients including beatings and a major operation without anaesthetic.

    Examination and findings:

    12. 37 subjects,over half, were still experiencing symptoms of severe anxiety or post traumatic stress.

    20 (30%) showed signs of depressive symptoms, one had psychotic depression. 4 abused alcohol, 3 self mutilated, a 13 year old boy remained mute, and one man developed schizophrenia (controlled on medication ) while detained .

    The trauma symptom inventory was carried out on 22 subjects allowing a crude quantitative assessment of the impact of their experiences indicated that 90% were likely to have a significant psychiatric disorder.

    End of captivity

    13. 44, two thirds of subjects, were exchanged for Azeri internationals, 23 with the help of ICRC. 10 more were uncertain how they were released and so may have been released as part of an exchange. 15 subjects were exchanges as part of a private exchange.

    Post script

    At the end of 1997 a copy of the report was submitted to the UN Committee against Torture prior to its scheduled a hearing on Azerbaijan, PHR-UK convenor Bernie Hamilton monitored the hearings and discussed the report with committee members. The Committee’s recommendations to the delegation from Azerbaijan reflected PHR-UK’s findings. They included making torture a punishable offence, repealing laws which undermined the judiciary and providing human rights training for law enforcement and medical personnel.

    Violations of International Treaties acceded by Azerbaijan

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (acceded on 13/8/92) - 27 adults civilians and 6 soldiers abducted after end of war in May 1994.

  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child (acceded on 13/8/92) - 4 children abducted aged under 15 years of age.

  • The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (acceded 18/8/96) - 3 adult civilians and one soldier abducted after end of war in May 1994.

  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (acceded 18/8/96) - one women abducted before accession but tortured afterwards.

  • The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (acceded 18/8/96) - 2 civilian adults and one soldier tortured after accession

  • The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (acceded 18/8/96) - many references to fatal assaults (witnessed by subjects) on ethnic Armenians by Azeris
  • To order a report send a cheque made out in favour of PHR-UK to: PHR-UK, 91 Harlech Rd, Abbots Langley, Herts, WD5 0BE

    Please send me ..... copies of the


    report at £5 each to




  • .. Home
    .. About DHR
    .. Patrons
    .. How to help
    .. Newsroom
    .. Campaigns
    .. Reports
    .. Newsletters
    .. Courses, conferences and lectures
    .. Litigation
    .. Affiliations
    .. Mailing List
    .. Contact DHR
    .. Sitemap

    printable version
    Web deployment by Rahul Roychoudhuri. DHR is the trading name of Physicians for Human Rights - UK. Registered Company No 3792515. Registered Charity No 1078420   March 19, 2019, 8:00 am GMT   Copyright Physicians for Human Rights-UK(c)2004