(RFE/RL) – An Armenian soldier killed and allegedly decapitated by Azerbaijani troops in Nagorno Karabakh has been reburied after the Armenian military has retrieved his severed head and handed it to his family.
Kyaram Sloyan, who would have turned 20 on April 27, was among dozens of Armenian soldiers who died while fighting back an Azerbaijani offensive in and around Karabakh launched on April 2. A military position in Karabakh’s northern Martakert district held by Sloyan’s unit was reportedly overrun by Azerbaijani troops but later recaptured by Karabakh Armenian forces.
Pictures of Azerbaijani soldiers purportedly holding the severed head of an Armenian soldier surfaced on Azerbaijani social media accounts shortly after the outbreak of the heavy fighting. It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the images.
The headless body of Sloyan was handed to his family living in Artashavan village in central Armenia and buried there on April 4. The family, which is part of the country’s Yazidi community, received Kyaram’s head on Saturday.
“When they brought the body we didn’t know that it’s headless,” Sloyan’s grief-stricken father Kyalash told RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Azatutyun. “It was very painful to discover that. They brought the head yesterday.”
“We took out the [buried] coffin, opened it, put the head there, and again buried it,” he said.
A spokesman for Armenia’s Defense Ministry said that Azerbaijan handed over Sloyan’s head as part of ongoing exchanges between the two warring sides of the bodies of soldiers killed by them during the hostilities. The mutual handovers facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross began on Friday and continued on Sunday.
Citing eyewitness accounts, Sloyan’s father said his son would have saved his life had he obeyed his commander’s last order. “They stopped the enemy from advancing until they ran out of bullets,” he said. “His wounded officer told him to run away but he said ‘No, I won’t leave you.’ They then killed him too.”
“They wanted to take him prisoner but they couldn’t, he fought on,” Sloyan’s elder brother Hamik said for his part. “They shot him in the shoulder and in the heart.”
“We are grieving but also proud because our boy is a hero,” he added, speaking in the impoverished family’s ramshackle house.
In the father’s words, repairing the house was Kyaram’s biggest dream. He was due to complete his military service and return home in May.
The authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert have already accused the Azerbaijani army of committing war crimes during the worst hostilities in the Karabakh conflict zone since 1994. They point to not only Sloyan’s alleged decapitation but also the killing of three elderly residents of Talish, a village in northern Karabakh close to the Armenian-Azerbaijani Line of Contact. According to the Karabakh authorities, the villagers were shot dead in their home by Azerbaijani special forces that briefly infiltrated Talish early on April 2.
Baku has not officially reacted to these accusations yet.
Although the hostilities largely stopped on April 5 following a Russian-mediated ceasefire, Kyaram Sloyan’s grief-stricken father, a veteran of the 1991-1994 Armenian-Azerbaijani war, now wants to rejoin the Armenian troops in Karabakh. “I want to go to Martakert,” he said. “My son was killed there.”
Photo Caption 1: The mother of Kyaram Sloyan, an Armenian soldier killed and decapitated by Azerbaijani troops in Nagorno Karabakh, looks at his photogaphs in Artashavan, Armenia on April 10, 2016.
Photo Caption 2:
Kyalash Sloyan, the father of an Armenian soldier killed and decapitated by Azerbaijani troops in Nagorno Karabakh, talks to RFE/R in Artashavan, Armenia on April 10, 2016.