NAGORNO-KARABAKH: Baptist conscript now imprisoned
Military leaders in the unrecognised republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus have successfully appealed to the courts for Gagik Mirzoyan - handed a suspended sentence in July for refusing to handle weapons or swear the military oath on grounds of religious faith – to be sent to prison. On 5 September Hadrut district court imprisoned the embattled Baptist conscript for one year. The court told Mirzoyan that if he declared then and there he would swear the oath it would free him and send him back to his unit. "Gagik responded that he couldn't do so as the Bible doesn't allow it," a fellow Baptist told Forum 18 News Service. "He was sentenced and police took him away immediately." Two Jehovah's Witnesses have also been sentenced to prison in Nagorno-Karabakh this year for refusing compulsory military service because of their religious convictions.
Already held in Shushi prison for refusing military service on grounds of religious conscience is Jehovah's Witness Areg Hovhanesyan, sentenced on 16 February to four years' imprisonment (see F18News 22 February 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=517).
"We were there in court with Gagik's family today," a fellow-Baptist told Forum 18 from Stepanakert on 5 September. "Gagik looked well, but he was much thinner, perhaps because of all the worry over the past few months." The Baptist reported that the court told Mirzoyan that if he declared then and there he would swear the oath it would free him and send him back to his unit. "Gagik responded that he couldn't do so as the Bible doesn't allow it. He was sentenced and police took him away immediately."
The Baptist, who preferred not to be named, insisted that Mirzoyan is prepared to conduct an alternative service. "He's ready to serve even in a dangerous position, such as in a frontline medical unit, as long as it is without weapons and without swearing the oath," the Baptist told Forum 18. "He believes this would be a witness for others to his faith."
Mirzoyan, a Karabakh native and a member of a local congregation of the Council of Churches Baptists, was called up last December. He announced immediately that he was not able to serve with weapons or swear the military oath on grounds of religious conscience. In the wake of his conscription he was beaten up in two different military units and served 10 days in military prison (see F18News 6 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=483 and 15 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=544).
Nagorno-Karabakh has compulsory military service for all young men, with no alternative service provision. At a trial at Hadrut district court on 7 July, Mirzoyan was found guilty under Article 364 part 1 of the criminal code (Nagorno-Karabakh has adopted Armenia's criminal code), which punishes "refusal to perform one's military duties" with detention of up to 3 months, disciplinary battalion of up to 2 years or imprisonment of up to 2 years. He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. However, the court ruled that the sentence should be suspended under Article 70 of the criminal code, which covers conditional punishments. Mirzoyan was then sent back to his military unit in Hadrut district (see F18News 13 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=605).
The Baptist said that conditional sentences are given so that those sentenced "think over" what they have done. "But as they saw no progress in persuading Gagik to take the oath, the military leadership appealed against his suspended sentence and the case was brought to court again."
Karabakh officials have revealed to Forum 18 in recent months that letters about Mirzoyan's case had arrived in Stepanakert from around the world. Local Baptists say some 500 letters alone reached the court ahead of the 7 July trial.
The Stepanakert Baptist told Forum 18 he understands that "the young state" of Nagorno-Karabakh is wary over allowing an alternative to compulsory military service as long as hostilities with the Azerbaijani government are unresolved. "There is still a state of war, and the authorities fear other people will try to follow the example of anyone allowed to do alternative service. But if such alternative service is hard and even dangerous, it will separate out those who want to do it because of their love of the Lord."
Also sentenced in Karabakh this year for refusing military service on religious grounds was another Jehovah's Witness Armen Grigoryan, an Armenian citizen who had been illegally deported from Armenia to serve in Karabakh against his will. Grigoryan was returned to Armenia to serve his two year sentence (see F18News 7 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=600). Jehovah's Witness sources told Forum 18 on 26 July that Grigoryan is now being held in the prison in the town of Nubarashen close to the Armenian capital Yerevan.
A printer-friendly map of the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=azerba
within the map titled 'Azerbaijan'.
A printer-friendly map of Armenia is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=armeni
13 July 2005
Embattled Baptist conscript Gagik Mirzoyan received a two-year sentence, suspended for one year, at his 7 July trial. He had refused to swear the military oath or serve with weapons since being called up into the army of the unrecognised republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus. "This means he won't have to serve any time in prison - if of course he does nothing wrong over the next year," Albert Voskanyan of the local Centre for Civilian Initiatives told Forum 18 News Service. Beaten twice since his conscription last December, Mirzoyan spent 10 days in prison for preaching his faith in his army unit. "After a lot of pressure, Gagik was finally happy because he could see his brothers and sisters from the church at his trial," a Baptist told Forum 18.
7 July 2005
NAGORNO-KARABAKH: Illegally deported Armenian JW conscientious objector jailed, no progress in Karabakh Baptist case
An Armenian citizen, Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Armen Grigoryan, who was illegally deported from Armenia to the unrecognised republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, has been jailed in Karabakh for two years and sent back to Armenia to serve the sentence, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Armen Grigoryan joins eleven other Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors who are currently jailed in Armenia, despite the country's broken promise to the Council of Europe that it would free all these prisoners of conscience and introduce civilian alternative service by January 2004. In another Nagorno-Karabakh case, that of Baptist conscientious objector Gagik Mirzoyan - a Karabakh native who has already spent 10 days in a military prison – the Nagorno-Karabakh Foreign Ministry has told Forum 18 that no case has yet been formally brought against him. His congregation were expecting him to be tried in June.
20 May 2005
Baptist conscript Gagik Mirzoyan faces either being jailed or sent to do forced labour for two years for refusing, on religious grounds, to swear the military oath, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Mirzoyan has been beaten up several times in two different military units in Nagorno-Karabakh since being called up last December, when he refused to serve with weapons. He has also been detained for more than 10 days for sharing his faith with other soldiers and possessing several Christian calendars. Mirzoyan's trial has now been set for June and fellow Baptists have told Forum 18 that the "harsh reality" of the maltreatment Baptist conscripts suffered in the Soviet era is returning. Gagik Mirzoyan's congregation has earlier faced harassment from the Karabakh authorities and other Protestants and religious minorities, especially Jehovah's Witnesses, have faced restrictions on their activity.