Society 17:34 14/10/2011

British photographer: Armenian soldiers are being forcibly held to ransom in Azerbaijan

“Over the last 17 years more than 150,000 people of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have slowly re-built the infrastructure of their major cities, and returned to some semblance of normality in their daily lives,” says the UK freelance photographer Russell Pollard in his blog publication “The Missing Soldiers of Nagorno-Karabakh war” at .

The Grigoryan family of Stepanakert, says Pollard, just like many fellow citizens, suffered the constant bombing and sniping from the Azeri troops. All around them was being destroyed: buildings, lives; neighbours were receiving sad news from the military of the loss of their relatives; bodies of killed men were being re-patriated home and funerals were taking place.

In 1994 the son of the Grigoryan family - Felix, a 23-year-old young man, was an accomplished musician with great prospects. His parents were looking forward to their old age, knowing that their son would be there to look after them. Felix was part of a 7 man unit carrying out an operation near Fizuli when, one day, he disappeared without trace. “The investigation was not able to confirm whether he had been killed, or captured; there was no evidence, only the fact that he never returned home,” notes the British photographer.

Whilst their neighbours have re-built their lives, the life of Grigoryan family remains, forever empty, but hopeful. They are grasping at any opportunity that would return their son back home. “On one occasion they received a mysterious call from a man who announced that he would visit them shortly, and that he would be known to them – cruelly the whole episode turned out to be a mistake”, writes Russell Pollard. Family's dreams are regularly punctuated by scenarios where their son, but only the monochrome picture of their handsome son, is always present for his proud parents to remember his, and their, sacrifice. Only there isn't a place to visit, or to lay flowers.

The photographer Pollard says, the story of the Grigoryan family in Artsakh is only one of over 700 similar stories, and it is quite likely that a proportion of these men will be dead, however more sinister possibilities are a reality. “Evidence exists ( I have seen the original of one letter) that people are being held in Azerbaijan, against their will, and that ransoms are being requested for their release,” writes the author, noting that there are also views that the Armenians, captured in Azerbaijan, have had to integrate within Azeri life in order to save themselves, and, now feel too ashamed to return. And the lack of correct identity papers makes it impossible to obtain a passport, or finance, thus neutralising the key ingredients for a return to Armenia.

The trafficking and exchanging of soldiers during and after the war, was a reality. The good work of Albert Voskanyan who the British photographer met in Stepanakert secured the release of 500 men and 150 bodies. “Whilst the Grigoryan’s continue to wait, hope and pray for their son’s return, another 700 families are suffering the same torment and the “needle” of quality information in the “haystack” of confusion gets more difficult to find as each year passes,” writes Russell Pollard at the end.

The ceasefire declared in the Nagorno-Karabagh war in 1994 provided a much needed respite to the bloodshed that lasted in the region for 6 years. The politicians have continued to talk since then to bring this conflict to a final resolution, however, a final peace agreement is not substantially closer, says Pollard.

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