Six Armenian soldiers have been captured by Azerbaijan near the Armenian–Azerbaijani border, both sides have confirmed.
Armenia’s Ministry of Defence said the six were ‘surrounded and captured’ on Armenian soil by Azerbaijani forces in the early hours of Thursday. Azerbaijan accused Armenia of ‘committing a provocation’ and has said that the soldiers were found on the Azerbaijani side of the border.
According to the Armenian Defence Ministry, the soldiers were carrying out engineering works in the borderlands of Gegharkunik Province. ‘Necessary measures are being undertaken to return the captured servicemen’, Armenia’s official report reads.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defence confirmed it took six Armenians prisoner, calling them a ‘reconnaissance-sabotage group’. They said the group attempted to enter the Azerbaijani territory ‘in the direction of the Yukhari Ayrim settlement of the Kalbajar region’.
‘As a result of urgent measures, six enemy servicemen who tried to mine the supply routes leading to the positions of the Azerbaijan Army on the border were surrounded, neutralised, and taken prisoner’, the official statement reads.
Armenia’s Defence Ministry responded that the statement ‘does not correspond to reality’.
Armenia’s acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that ‘it is not in fact captivity. Armenian servicemen were abducted from the territory of Armenia’. He claimed that the soldiers were carrying out operations to ‘strengthen the borders’.
The Foreign Ministry of Armenia also condemned the incident, stating that the ‘provocative’ actions of Azerbaijan ‘are aimed at further aggravating the situation, which could seriously undermine regional peace and stability’.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry later stated that the six captured soldiers were part of two ‘intelligence-sabotage groups’ of 9 and 15 soldiers who penetrated into Azerbaijani territory, and that those not captured had since retreated.
Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the borders have continued to spiral since 12 May, after Armenia accused Azerbaijani forces of advancing several kilometres into Armenian territory.
On Tuesday, an Armenian soldier was killed near the village of Verin Shorzha. Armenia accused Azerbaijani forces of opening fire on their positions while Azerbaijan denied that any clashes took place, accusing Armenia of spreading ‘false information’ and stating that the soldier had died in an incident which had ‘nothing to do with the Azerbaijani side’.
[Read more Armenian soldier killed in ‘clashes along Azerbaijani border’]
Around 200 Armenians are still being held in Azerbaijani captivity following the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war.
A number of Western countries and international organisations called for the immediate release of all Armenian prisoners. On May 20, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the unconditional release of prisoners, which was a part of the Russian-brokered trilateral agreement.
Armenia has applied for assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation over the incidents on the border; the military alliance has stated that it is ‘closely following the situation’.
Frustrated at the CSTO’s lack of action, Pashinyan criticised the pact on Wednesday stating that ‘at this moment’ they were not satisfied with the pace of the CSTO’s actions. ‘But we will continue to work consistently … with our partners’, the PM added, while not ruling out the possibility of applying to the United Nations Security Council if the CSTO failed to act.