Mkrtchyan watches news of the war in Iraq and
thinks of conflict closer to her home in the Pokr
Vedi village of the Ararat region.
"When I look at the captives of the Iraqi
war with their hands up, my heart is aching, but
I also understand that it is war and everything
is possible," Seda says. "My son was
taken captive in peaceful conditions."
It has been more than five years (February 1998),
since Seda's only son, Armen, disappeared from
his regimen while encamped in the Martakert region
of Nagorno Karabakh. He had been called to service
10 months earlier, and his letters home were mostly
optimistic about his life as a conscripted soldier.
Seda found out about her boy's disappearance
by accident, 19 days after he had gone missing.
"On March 17 my Armen had to return from
the military line. On March 19 we asked our Karabakhi
friend to visit him and let us know. He was told
that Armen had disappeared since March 1,"
Also on March 19, military police came to the
Mkrtchyans house, claiming that Armen had deserted
his post and accused his family of hiding him.
At the military commissariat in Ararat, the Mkrtchyans
were told they should go to Karabakh and find
out for themselves where their son was.
At his regimine, Seda and Armen's father, Abo,
were told that Armen had escaped, taking with
him his weapon and a sapper's spade. They say
a unit commander told them to return the weapon,
adding "we don't even need your son".
But the battalion commander Lyova Avetisyan assured
the parents that on March 2 somebody saw Armen
in the village.
"We started seeking in the whole Martakert
region with my Armen's photograph in our hands,"
Seda says. "We met people in the villages
who were saying that his face seemed familiar
to them and it inspired our hope.
"So we went through mountains and ravines
at night through the wind and rain, when one can
see nothing. There was only God above and us.
I wouldn't even wish those days to my enemy. Our
car broke and we had to walk, it was mud and raining,
my feet slipped. I asked my husband what he would
do if Armen responded and he said, 'Nothing, if
only my eyes see him'."
They continued looking for him also in the opposite
direction towards Kelbajar. They searched in vain
for 21 days.
Today Seda shows a thick portfolio of documents
concerning the military's search for her son.
"Instead of my son I got these papers and
nothing else," she says.
On April 14, 1998 the military prosecutor's office
of Askeran, Nagorno Karabakh, instituted legal
proceedings against Armen Mkrtchyan with the charge
of leaving his military post and stealing a submachine
gun entrusted to him for military service.
A week later the commander of the military unit
told Abo Mkrtchyan to promptly go to Stepanakert.
Thinking that his son had been found the father
the office of the deputy of the military unit's
rear commander, Samvel Karapetyan called a policeman,
who put handcuffs on me and took me to prison,"
the 60-year old father told a Yerevan newspaper
a year later. "When I asked why they were
taking me to prison, they started to hit me with
After keeping him in prison for eight days, the
military unit commander kept Abo Mkrtchyan in
the unit for two more days, during which time
he said he was attacked by dogs.
Following 10 days of complaints by Seda, Abo
One year after Armen's disappearance the pre-investigating
body of the military prosecutor's office found
that on March 1, 1998, Armen Mkrtchyan was beaten
by the sergeants of his unit Artak Javeyan, Nerses
Hovhannisyan and a private, Gegham Hakobyan. According
to the prosecutor's office soon after the incident
Armen left the military line in an unknown direction.
"Those who have beaten my son were never
called to account. Investigator Samvel Hovhannisyan
said that evidences are not enough and they should
also find Armen," says Seda painfully. "What
happened to my child? If they killed him, tell
us, but if he is alive then he will be found.
The investigator says ask for your son from whomever
you gave him to. I gave my son to the State. What
was my son doing in Karabakh?"
The Mkrtchyans would visit the prosecutor's office
several times a week and spoke a few times with
Republic of Armenia Military Prosecutor Gagik
"He told us: 'Take a spade, go to Martakert's
military line, dig and find your son. What can
I do, if your son disappeared?'
On June 6, 1999 Abo Mkrtchyan went to the prosecutor's
The next day he hanged himself.
"He couldn't bear the law-enforcement officers'
mockery and jokes," Seda says. "What
can I do? Will I kill myself like Abo? I have
Seda lives with her 20-year old daughter Anahit.
"I am waiting for Armen to come so that
my daughter can get married," Seda says.
On September 23, 1999 during an exchange of Azeri
and Armenian prisoners (they are not considered
Prisoners of War), four Armenian soldiers recognized
Armen by photo and confirmed that he was alive
and was held captive.
"Armen from Ararat?" asked Hapet Tonoyan
who was set free from captivity and then described
in details Armen's appearance.
According to the testimony given to the investigation
body by another prisoner, Aram Babayan, Armen
Mkrtchyan was being held captive in a military
unit called Shuvalan.
The International Red Cross, Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international
organizations dealing with captive issues officially
presented information about not only Armen Mkrtchyan
but also other captives to Baku.
"This question was raised at the level of
Armenian and Azeri ministers," explains Karine
Minasyan, coordinator of International Working
Group, Armenian branch. "But Azerbaijan answers
that there are no captives held within their territory.
On September 23, 1999, after releasing the prisoners,
President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliev announced
that they had no other Armenian captives, and
so it is natural that all answers should be refused.
The exchanges made during the last years were
all new events."
to General Michael Grigoryan of the State Commission
of the Ministry of Defense on the issues of captives,
hostages and missing soldiers, today there are
18 captives in Azerbaijan. These are people concerning
whom there is certain data on when, where and
under what circumstances they disappeared.
"We can tell with confidence that we have
captives in Azerbaijan," Grigoryan says.
"I don't say that for propaganda like them,
when they mention 800-900 captives. This is absurd.
It is not possible to hold so many captives in
such a small territory hiding them from international
organizations. Today there are 18 captives in
Azerbaijan, information about them we got from
the exchanged captives, international organizations
and the Azeri captives."
However, international organizations are not
the only way to get the captives back. Often there
are cases when intermediaries from Georgia find
parents and for fantastic sums ($30-50,000) promise
to get back the captives, who according to Azerbaijan
side are not in their territory.
"All I have is this house," Seda Mkrtchyan
says. "Let them give my Armen back and I
will take his hand and go out of here."