Fifteen prisoners of war have been returned to Armenia in exchange for landmine maps for the Fuzuli and Zangilan regions in a deal mediated by Russia.
In a statement on Saturday evening, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said the maps contained the locations of around 92,000 landmines. Around three dozen Azerbaijanis have been killed in landmine explosions in the areas Azerbaijan took control of in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.
‘We express our gratitude to Rustam Muradov, Commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent temporarily deployed in the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, for his mediation services in the implementation of the humanitarian initiative to obtain mine maps’, Azerbaijan’s official statement said.
Twelve of those released on Saturday had been sentenced to six months in prison for ‘illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border’, though they were originally charged with ‘terrorism’ and ‘mercenary activity’.
Two others who remain in custody were sentenced to four years in prison and another, Lebanese-Armenian Vicken Euljekian, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Two Syrians who were accused of fighting as mercenaries for Azerbaijan were also sentenced to 20 years in prison in Yerevan in May.
This was the second exchange of landmine maps for POWs since the end of the war.
On 13 June, 15 Armenian prisoners were released in exchange for mine maps for the Aghdam region in a deal mediated by Western and Georgian officials. Both countries thanked US and Georgian officials and the OSCE for their decisive role in reaching the agreement.
At the time, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that Armenia had previously been handing over mine maps to Azerbaijan in response to the repatriation of the prisoners of war and civilian captives, but had stopped once Azerbaijan stopped freeing prisoners. Pashinyan refused to call the agreement a trade.
Since the war, 103 prisoners have been returned to Armenia and a Lebanese-Armenian woman to Lebanon.
The exact number of Armenians being held captive in Azerbaijan remains unclear. The Azerbaijani government has acknowledged holding around 70 Armenian prisoners, while Armenia and the European Court of Human Rights claim there are more.