The Forgotten Story of Nelson Movsisyan
[Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of violence.]
Following Azerbaijan’s invasion into the sovereign Republic of Armenia in September, footage began circulating online that showcased the mutilation of a female Armenian soldier by Azerbaijani troops.The footage shows a number of bodies of Armenian soldiers, including two women.
This recent case brings to memory of another tragic murder that took place in the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast during the period of the Soviet Union. It was a tragedy that outraged many, fueled tensions between Azerbaijanis and Armenians and even led to the resignation of many officials.
It’s evident that Azerbaijan has not changed its Armenophobic behavior towards the Armenian people, especially in light of the recent invasion as well as several other examples that took place during the 2020 Artsakh War. Contrary to reports about the behavior of Azerbaijanis changing in a more positive direction, the reality is that their existence right now is more of a threat than it ever was to the Armenian nation.
This story, which has been mostly forgotten, is about an 8 year old student named Nelson Movsisyan.
In September 1966, Nelson, who was from the village of Kuropatkino, Martuni district, was brutally and sadistically murdered by a group of Azerbaijanis. Nails were driven into the boy’s head, and he was literally crucified on a tree. The murder was led by Arshad Mammadov, the director of the school of the Kuropatkino village of the Martuni district of the NKAO.
Normally after class, Nelson would eat, do school work, and go play with his friends, but one day after school, he was nowhere to be found. After hours of searching for him, it was the next day that winemaker Emma Safaryan and her sister discovered the tortured corpse of the boy as they were picking grapes. Following the murder, Arshad had fled the village but was found and arrested 3 days later along with his driver Zohrab and accomplice Alamshad.
The trial began in March 1967 and was conducted by Roza Babajayan, deputy chairman of the regional court. The jurors were Abgar Atajanyan and teacher Araksya Mirzoyan and the state prosecutor was Apres Tovmasyan.
Arshad Mammadov’s attorneys were Azerbaijanis invited from Baku. After two weeks upon recusal of the accused, the judge changed. The trial was then chaired by a member of the Board of the Azerbaijan SSR on Criminal Cases, judge Razakov. During the trial, the relatives of the defendants and emissaries from Baku stated that they would “buy out” the accused.
The trial also revealed that Nelson’s eyes were removed hours after the murder, because the killers believed that an image of the perpetrators could remain in the eyes of the deceased. This violent and cruel behavior has evidently not changed in 50 years.
The court sessions were held in a very stressful environment. Relatives and friends of the accused Arshad openly threatened Nelson’s family and the prosecutor. As a surprise to many, judge Razakov decided to read the verdict at the main hall of the city’s summer cinema named after Mashadi Azizbeyov. Accompanied by a special security unit sent from Baku, Arshad was taken to the hall. Despite the fact that everyone was sure that the murderer Arshad would be sentenced to death, the judge actually gave a very lenient sentence to the murderer and his accomplices.
Arshad Mammadov was sentenced to 15 years in prison, his accomplice Alamshad to 12, and their driver Zohrab was free to go without any punishment.
The verdict was greeted with a noisy glee from the relatives of the murderers and the grim bitterness of the victims. Nelson’s family and other Armenians knew Arshad, the murderer, would be seen as a hero by Baku. Once the criminals were escorted out of the court building, a brawl sparked between the police and citizens. The enraged crowd, breaking through the cordon, overturned and set the car with all three convicts inside on fire, killing them.
As a large explosion shook the town, Stepanakert had turned to a battlefield. Water cannons were used to disperse Armenian crowds. Arshad and his accomplices were burned and killed and dozens including law enforcement officers were injured.
Then at 3am, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan SSR Vali Akhundov, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Azerbaijan SSR Anvar Alikhanov, Chairmen of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet Mamed Iskenderov, Azerbaijani SSR security representative Zamanov, and Mr. Alizade from the Azerbaijani SSR Ministry of Internal Affairs arrived at Stepanakert. The next day, additional officials arrived from Moscow.
Arshad was buried immediately after. Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Azerbaijan Enver Alikhanov personally left for Baku to participate in the funeral.
Taking advantage of such a clearly planned course of events, the then leadership of Azerbaijan presented the events to the Politburo of the Communist Party’s Central Committee as the tactics of Armenian nationalists. And having received approval from above, they began to carry out repressions. Dozens of representatives of the Armenian intelligentsia of the region who raised their voices in defense of the elementary rights of their people were arrested, convicted, and further persecuted for years to come.