Two Armenian soldiers captured near the southern border between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been exchanged for an Azerbaijani soldier who was detained after entering a house in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The exchange in the early hours of Wednesday was facilitated by the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani serviceman Jamil Babaeyev was detained in Martakert (Aghdara) on 26 August after entering a private home.
Artur Nalbandian and Aramais Torozyan were detained on 14 July near Lake Sev, in southern Armenia. The area has been a flashpoint in the conflict since an apparent incursion by Azerbaijani forces in May.
According to Azerbaijani officials, Babaeyev, a serviceman of the Azerbaijani Army, left a psychiatric ward in the Ganja City Hospital where he was being treated and sought refuge in a flat in Martakert, 65 kilometres away.
Azerbaijani officials said he was detained by Russian peacekeepers while the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said they had detained him.
According to officials in Nagorno-Karabakh, when Babaeyev entered the flat in Martakert, only two children were at home. The children later told RFE/RL that he spent around two hours with them, ate and drank coffee. They said he used hand signals to communicate with them and ‘then gave the name of Azerbaijan and made it clear that he felt insulted’.
Babayev was charged in Stepanakert with illegal border crossing and threatening the children with death.
The Azerbaijani Defence Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office have also launched a criminal case against Babayev and an investigation is underway.
The two Armenian servicemen who were handed over reportedly lost their way and inadvertently crossed into Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan stated that no criminal case had been opened against the two.
Armenia’s Defence Ministry had not previously released any information on the whereabouts of the missing soldiers. A day before the trade, the ministry told Hetq that they had no information about the missing soldiers or any negotiations over their repatriation.
Since the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war, 106 Armenian captives and Prisoners of War have been returned to Armenia. According to Armenian officials, Armenia returned all Azerbaijani captives, while the number of Armenians being held in Azerbaijan remains unclear. Azerbaijan has claimed that Armenia is holding seven of their soldiers captive.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.