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Human Rights Developments

In its seventh year, the conflict over the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of Azerbaijan continued in large part to shape human rights developments in Armenia. Forced draft raids were common, and many complained of the increased power of security forces.

During 1994, the country still remained under an Azerbaijani trade embargo that reduced energy and food supplies to the country, forcing the government to reopen the troubled Metzamor nuclear reactor. An estimated percent of the population has left the country. Conscripts were forcibly drafted into the army in raids using press-gang tactics as Armenia continued to send forces including conscripts to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh and in other parts of occupied Azerbaijan.

The year began with the as-yet-unexplained deaths of eight Azerbaijani prisoners of war in a Armenian Defense Ministry prison in January 1994. Other areas of concern included harassment of Hari Krishna temples in Armenia and the allegedly politically-motivated trial of Vahan Avakyan, former deputy of opposition political leader Ashot Manucharyan. Armenia failed to ratify a new constitution during the year, complicating economic and political reforms.

From the beginning of the Karabakh conflict, Armenia provided aid, weapons, and volunteers. According to Karabakh authorities, Armenia was providing upwards of 90 percent of the enclave's yearly budget in the form of interest-free credits. Some analysts believed that payments to Karabakh constituted 7 to 9 percent of Armenia's yearly budget.

Armenian involvement in Karabakh escalated after a December 1993 Azerbaijani offensive. The Republic of Armenia began sending conscripts and regular Army and Interior Ministry troops to fight in Karabakh. In January 1994, several active-duty Armenian Army soldiers were captured near the village of Chaply, Azerbaijan. While Armenia denied involvement in the conflict, in London in February 1994 President Levon Ter-Petrosyan stated that Armenia would intervene militarily if the Karabakh Armenians were faced with "genocide" or "forced deportation." The fighting during this Azerbaijani offensive, which lasted until February 1994, was exceptionally brutal. International aid agencies and foreign governments were concerned at the low number of prisoners of war registered given the scale of fighting.

To bolster the ranks of its army, the Armenia government resorted to press-gang raids to enlist recruits. Draft raids intensified in early spring, after Decree no. 129 was issued, instituting a three-month call-up for men up to age forty-five. Military police would seal off public areas, such as squares, and round up anyone who looked to be draft age. All male Armenian citizens between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five were forbidden to leave the country without special permission. According to a report in the influential German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued an order by which Armenian draft resisters should be given refugee status.

A particularly troubling human rights development in Armenia in 1994 was the unexplained deaths of the eight Azerbaijani prisoners of war in Yerevan. They were in the custody of the Armenian Ministry of Defense on January 29, 1994, their deaths remained unexplained as of this writing. According to the official version, after an aborted escape attempt in which a guard was killed, eight of the prisoners committed suicide with a pistol in a matter of minutes. The Armenian government originally issued two different, contradictory explanations of the deaths. An independent forensic pathologist who examined the bodies stated that, "the pattern of injuries of the six individuals who died of gunshot wounds to the head suggest mass execution, but the possibility of a mass suicide cannot be absolutely excluded, however unlikely."

Domestically, there were widespread reports of the harassment and imprisonment of members of the Hari Krishna religious group, who were reportedly threatened and forced to leave various cities where they had gone to disseminate literature. Although these attacks often came from private citizens or from clergy of the Armenian Orthodox Church, the police response was at best perfunctory. On August 28, 1994, an unidentified group raided the main Hari Krishna temple in Yerevan, beating several members. Three days later, the police reportedly arrested sixteen Hari Krishna members.

On May 6, 1994, Vahan Avakyan was arrested by Armenian security forces at Sheremetovo-2 airport in Moscow and taken to Armenia. Avakayn was charged with transporting contraband, illegal weapons possession, and divulging state secrets. According to the Russian newspaper Utro Rossii, a multiparty Armenian parliamentary commission found the charges against Avakyan baseless, but nevertheless his case was sent to trial. Many believe Avakyan's trial to be politically-motivated, an attempt to discredit his former chief, opposition politician leader Ashot Manucharyan, former national security adviser to Armenian President Ter-Petrosyan. On October 10, Avakyan was found guilty of divulging state secrets then sentenced in November to five years imprisonment. At the time of this writing, an appeals court was set to review the sentence.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was unaware of any interference with human rights monitoring in Armenia, and during an April 1994 mission to Armenia received full government cooperation.

U.S. Policy

While the Clinton adminstration adopted a more balanced approach regarding the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (see section on Azerbaijan), it has consistently refused to acknowledge publicly Armenia's military involvement there, which is marked by gross human rights abuses by all sides. The Armenia section of the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993, for example, only mentioned "Armenian support" for the Karabakh Armenian rebels, not the human rights consequences of that support. This official administration silence was most apparent during Armenian President Ter-Petrosyan's official visit in August to Washington, when President Clinton made no public statement concerning Armenian involvement in Karabakh or its consequences for human rights.

Armenia has consistently been the largest per-capita recipient of U.S. aid in the former Soviet Union. Through December 1993, Armenia received $305 million in humanitarian aid and $30 million in technical assistance. In fiscal year 1994, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided $66 million in food aid, while the U.S. Agency for International Development expected to provide $11 million in food aid for children and post-partum mothers. The United States also allocated about $15 million for the transport of kerosene, kerosene heaters, and containers, while supporting market economy and democratization programs. An estimated $75 million in assistance has been allocated to Armenia for fiscal year 1995.

The Work of

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

In 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki tried to focus attention on Armenian involvement in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, a conflict beset by human rights abuses. We pressed the U.S. government to withhold all aid, except humanitarian, from all parties engaged in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sent an April 1994 mission to Armenia, where we met with government and military officials, political parties, and the press. We brought widespread attention to the deaths of the eight Azeri prisoners in Yerevan. Throughout the year, we were also in close contact with the Armenian government concerning these deaths. In August 1994, a Human Rights Watch researcher met the Armenian Foreign Minister Vahan Papazyan to discuss this issue. We also criticized the human rights consequences of Armenian military intervention in Nagorno-Karabakh, addressing a letter to President Clinton before his August 1994 meeting with President Ter-Petrosyan, holding a press conference in Moscow, and meeting with European Union officials in Brussels.

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