By | Rachel Brooks
October 25, 2020
This image circled social media accounts, as evidence of child soldiers in the current conflict era. Further images have surfaced in the wake of these allegations.
The basic human rights of children are in profound jeopardy as the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict now blossoms beyond the Nagorno-Karabakh. This threat continues despite the fact that the the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that the U.S. has facilitated an intensive negotiation to facilitate peace.
“Today, the U.S. facilitated an intensive negotiation with the FMs of Armenia, Azerbaijan, & @OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to move closer to a peaceful resolution of the N-K conflict. @ZMnatsakanyan & @bayramov_jeyhun have committed to implement & abide by the ceasefire at midnight,” said Secretary Pompeo, via his official Twitter.
On the Azerbaijani side, this was seen within the bombing of Ganja City, in which two teenage males, one of whom was a citizen of Russia, became fatalities. The rights of Armenian children are in jeopardy of another kind. The Armenian nationalist movement has enlisted children and minor teenagers for the assault upon Azerbaijan. While these children may not be engaged as direct combatants, they are being trained to use artillery and munitions underaged, as was evidenced from footage and photographs of training courses.
Evidence of this occurring in the 2020-era conflict has been observed, but it is not a new occurrence. The surface of these images has created outrage across social networks. Citizens have since demanded a response from the international community regarding the photographs of underaged military training in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Living conditions within the poorly funded Armenian forces are subpar. Some photographic evidence that emerged from the Armenian forces encampment of the 2020-era conflict reveal soldiers without shoes, and poor barracks conditions.
Child soldiers a recurring issue of the Armenian nationalist movement
Child soldier services are not a new occurrence of the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. RefWorld reported in the 2003-2004 era that underage Armenians were believed to have been “forcibly and illegally” recruited into the military. This was during the breach of the ceasefire along the border in the 2003 era of the conflict. This was also at the time when many Armenians were facing sentences, including execution, for defecting from compulsory military service.
A global report of child soldiers was conducted in 2004 by Child Soldiers International that stated children of the “self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh republic” received “military training in school.” The self-proclaimed republic of the Nagorno-Karabakh, also called Artsakh, was stated in this report as “internationally unrecognized” and likewise stated that the capabilities of its military “were secret” though the estimated strength of the service as of 2001-2004 era was between 18-22 thousand active duty and 30-40 thousand in reserves. As of this era, there was “no voluntary recruitment system” but rather conscription was regulated by the NKR Law of Military Service. Conscientious objectors are convicted for draft evasion. Children received “military and patriotic training” as of this era. Ordinary elementary schools of this region have “military patriotic clubs” for the children to attend. They then go to secondary schools, where students take a “initial military training” course. As of the 2004 era, there were no reported official military schools for children under 18, but there were military-sports lyceum programs.
These military-sports lyceum programs used sports programs to increase the underaged youths military education. These sports programs are believed to be compulsory. A journalist in 2004 visited a school in Stepanakert and reported seeing 15-year-old students in a compulsory military training program, where they demonstrated assembling Kalashnikov assault rifles. The journalist was Frank Vivano, reporting for National Geographic, in the “The Rebirth of Armenia” which was published on March 3, 2004. An excerpt version is available in the digital archives of National Geographic, but the full story ran in the print magazine.
Reports of punishment against evasion of forced conscripted military service in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was also recorded under the Armenia report in the Amnesty International World Report 2002, a photocopy of that report is available here. In 2002, Armenia had joined the Council of European Relations. A condition of its membership then was to pardon all conscientious objectors who were serving prison sentences. These prisoners were Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group that faced persecution in Armenia at that time, citing the Amnesty International report.
The Child Soldiers Report of 2004 also noted that soldiers, including youths, within the Nagorno-Karabakh were treated brutally, or hazed, by superior officers or “with their complicity” as Armenia cracked down on military dissent in this era. This was recorded by the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices of the 2003-2004 era. The report was dated February 25, 2004. The report is available in its entirety from the U.S. Department of State’s State Archives archived from 2009-2017 era. The report noted the forced conscription in Armenia of ethnic Armenians who were refugees of Azerbaijan.
“There were credible reports of improper, forced conscription of ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, who by law are exempt from military service. The parents of such refugees were reluctant to complain because they feared reprisals against their sons. Sweep operations for draft-age men no longer occurred, although police at times maintained surveillance of draft age men to prevent them from fleeing the country,” stated the report.
Irina Tuskerman, a New York-based human rights lawyer, noted that the radicalization of Armenian youths begins at the earliest possible stage.
“The fact that Armenians are not even trying to deny the use of child soldiers, and in fact, appear to be boasting of the “patriotic spirit” that moves these teenagers and children to take part in combat, is extremely disconcerting. Not only is the use of child soldiers in violation of international laws and all civic norms, but it is doubtless traumatic to the developing psyche of the children, creating a generation of killers, who had not been prepared to separate their function in combat from their social role otherwise,” said Tsukerman.
“Essentially these children are being radicalized from birth, with the military and combat action, taking the place of family and community in shaping their education, values, and outlook on life.
This follows the model the Houthi militias had employed in Yemen, recruiting children and turning them into hardened soldiers while also essentially using them as hostages. These children become killing machines, but often lack the training to be effective in basic self defense, which means they are killed easily while presenting a degree of danger. They can then be used as martyrs for propaganda and to smear the adversary. The international community has a responsibility to protect the children from the policies of their government and to launch an official investigation based on the available documentation.”