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Azerbaijani police back down after attempt to disrupt missing service members protest

9 April 2021
Image via Azel TV.

Police in Azerbaijan have attempted to disperse a protest by families of service members who remain missing from the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, before abandoning the endeavour. 

The families of around 20 missing service members gathered outside the Presidential Administration on Thursday to protest the lack of information about the fate of their loved ones.

When police moved in to disperse them, one officer broke the frame of a portrait of one of the protesters’ missing relatives. They also attempted to prevent journalists from covering the demonstration, including preventing at least one from entering the area.

After meeting anger from demonstrators, police left the area.

Several of the families told journalists that the search for their relatives had been poorly organised and that they had not received any information for around 7 months.

The families of at least 20 missing service members complained that they were turned away by government officials, and that their appeals were not being answered.

During Thursday’s demonstration, protesters appealed to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin to help determine the fate of their children. One woman appealed directly to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Some said they believed their children were being held captive by Armenia since their bodies had not been recovered, though Armenian authorities have insisted they have handed over all prisoners of war.

At the end of the war, the Defence Ministry said that 64 people had gone missing. The remains of many of them have been found in recent months and handed over to their families.

Around 2,900 Azerbaijani service members lost their lives in the war, and over 20 remain missing.

After the protest, Prosecutor General Kamran Aliyev met with the families and a spokesperson told Turan that their complaints were heard and that the authorities would do everything possible to resolve the issue.

On 9 April, the families held another protest, this time in front of the State Security Service building. They were demanding a meeting with the head of the service Ali Nagiyev.

Protests in Armenia

The issue of missing service members has also remained prominent in Armenia, with relatives there also holding protests. On Thursday, they gathered outside the Ministry of Defence blocking the entrances and stopping officials from leaving unless they got answers to their questions. Officials inside reportedly had to stay overnight.

Despite a heavy police presence in the area, the authorities did not attempt to open the entrances

The exact number of dead and missing Armenian service members as well as those still held captive in Azerbaijan remains unclear․

[Read more: Plane 'carrying POWs' lands empty in Yerevan]

The last five months of continuous protests by the relatives of the missing has resulted in several meetings with the Prime Minister and other state officials but with no tangible results․  

In September 2020, heavy fighting broke out on the line of contact between the Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces. After 44 days of fighting and a subsequent agreement, Azerbaijan took control of part of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and the seven surrounding regions that were under Armenian control. 

According to 10 November agreement between the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia, Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and along the new line of contact.

With additional reporting by Ani Avetisyan.

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