Nagorno-Karabakh Releases Baptist Soldier After One Year Jail

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

NAGORNO-KARABACH/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- A Christian soldier who was imprisoned in the troubled unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh for refusing to swear the military oath and carry weapons on Biblical grounds, has been released, after spending one year in jail, BosNewsLife learned Monday, September 25.

All kinds of officials have told us he will be sentenced again – and that next time the sentence will be harsher," Baptist pastor Garnik Abreyan told Forum 18 News Service from Stepanakert, capital of the unrecognised republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus.

Gagik Mirsojan, 20, was apparently already released September 5, but news of this development reached the outside world later.

However he was not allowed to meet family and members of his Baptist congregation waiting outside the military detention facility, Christian investigators said.


"They were awaiting him for hours. But he was immediately send to a military division," where he will have to serve as a soldier, said the Netherlands-based Friedensstimme foundation in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife News center.

The Christian was not expected to change his views, and it was not immediately clear how military authorities would handle him. “All kinds of officials have told us he will be sentenced again – and that next time the sentence will be harsher," Baptist pastor Garnik Abreyan told Forum 18 News Service (F18News) from Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.

His troubles began last year when military leaders in the South Caucasus republic had successfully appealed to the courts for Gagik Mirzoyan to overturn a "suspended" one year jail sentence. The court told Mirzoyan that if he declared he would swear the oath it would free him and send him back to his unit.


However "Gagik responded that he couldn't do so as the Bible doesn't allow it," a fellow Baptist was quoted as saying "He was sentenced and police took him away immediately."

Several Jehovah's Witnesses have also been imprisoned in Nagorno-Karabakh for refusing compulsory military service because of their religious convictions, human rights groups say.

Baptists say 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," one unidentified Baptist was quoted as saying. "He believes this would be a witness for others to his faith," the Baptist told F18News.


Mirzoyan, a Karabakh native and member of a local congregation of the Council of Churches Baptists, was called up December 2004, but announced immediately that he was not able to serve with weapons or swear the military oath "on grounds of religious conscience."

Human rights groups claim that during his conscription and detention he was mistreated. Tensions remain high in Nagorno-Karabakh, which declared independence from the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan in 1991.

Following its declaration of independence, up to 30,000 were killed in heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the disputed enclave, and over one million people fled their homes, according to estimates. A ceasefire was signed in 1994, but peace talks are slow and refugees remain stranded in several areas. (With BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar, BosNewsLife Research and reports from Nagorno-Karabakh).

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