Azerbaijan offers prisoner exchange, Armenia has its doubts
Azerbaijan offered Armenia a four-prisoner exchange – two from each side. Armenia has not yet responded, but will most likely refuse. The main reason is because officials in Baku and Yerevan have different ideas about how these people became prisoners in the first place.
Azerbaijanis Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev were sentenced to life imprisonment and 22 years in prison in Karabakh on charges of murder, espionage and abduction, and in Azerbaijan it is believed that they traveled to Armenian-controlled territory to visit the graves of their ancestors.
And on the other side, Karen Ghazaryan (sentenced to 20 years in prison in Azerbaijan) is considered a saboteur in Azerbaijan, but is called “mentally ill” in Armenia.
As for the young soldier Araik Ghazaryan, the Azerbaijani side says that he escaped from the military due to inhuman treatment, while Armenia believes that the guy just got lost.
Information from Yerevan
The Armenian side has already rejected Baku’s offer to exchange prisoners and other detainees, saying they’ll only exchange on an “all for all” basis.
In addition, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced a few months ago that “there will be no exchange if the detained Azerbaijani individuals committed murder.”
The Armenian Minister of Defense, however, does not exclude the possibility of an exchange. On September 20, David Tonoyan commented on the exchange of citizens between Armenia and Azerbaijan:
“Yesterday I met with an Armenian Red Cross representative. They gave me Azerbaijan’s official offer for an exchange. I cannot disclose all of the details of our discussion now…when we receive new information from Azerbaijan, then we will respond…
In principle, we are not against returning Armenian citizens home and we will assist in this process. This is a purely humanitarian act,” said Tonoyan.
Press Secretary of the Armenian Prime Minister Vladimir Karapetyan announced:
“Given the delicate nature of the issue, we will publicly announce our position when we are closer to making decisions.”
Information from Baku
The Azerbaijani State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons once again cites the fact that Azerbaijan insists on an “all-for-all” exchange policy. Azerbaijan announced that it was prepared to exchange Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev for Karen Kazaryan and Araik Kazaryan on September 11. In response to the Nikol Pashinyan’s statement about the impossibility of exchange, Coordinator of the Azerbaijan Information Center for the Exchange of Hostages and Prisoners of War Ahmed Shahidov said:
“In light of the current tense situation in the country, Pashinyan cannot make a final decision about prisoners and hostages. But despite this, the Azerbaijani side is adamant about its decision and does not intend to back down.”
Meanwhile, the European Court must decide on the case of Guliyev and Askerov within a year. The plaintiffs are relatives of the prisoners who complain that they are unable to contact the prisoners and that their relatives were unlawfully convicted, because if international law does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state, then the decisions of the court in Khankendi (Stepanakert) have no legal force.
Information from Stepanakert
Press secretary for the President of Nagorno-Karabakh David Babayan called Azerbaijan’s offer absurd, insisting that the Armenian prisoners did nothing wrong, while the Azerbaijani prisoners are criminals.
Stepanakert’s cautious response to the Azerbaijani proposal is explained by the fact that the “unequal” status of the citizens offered for exchange can lead to undesirable consequences:
“It’s possible that, in order to secure the return of terrorists, [Azerbaijanis] may start abducting Armenian hostages, including abroad. Preventing such possibilities requires even greater coordination among government agencies, organizations and partner countries,” said the press secretary for the President of Nagorno-Karabakh.