Azerbaijan swaps 15 Armenian soldiers for landmine map
Azerbaijan has exchanged 15 Armenian soldiers for the maps of minefields in the territory of the Agdam region, which came under the control of the Azerbaijani army as a result of the second Karabakh war. The exchange took place at Azerbaijan’s border with Georgia.
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Reports from Baku
“According to the agreement reached, on June 12, 2021, in exchange for the provision of minefield maps by Armenia, which indicated 97,000 planted anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in the Aghdam region, Azerbaijan handed over 15 arrested Armenians with the participation of Georgian representatives at the Azerbaijani-Georgian border.
We appreciate the support of the Georgian government, headed by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, in carrying out this humanitarian action. At the same time, we especially emphasize the mediating role of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Acting Assistant Secretary Philip Reeker, President of the Council of Europe Charles Michel, and the Swedish OSCE Chairmanship.
Obtaining mine maps will save the lives and health of tens of thousands of our citizens, including demining specialists, and accelerate reconstruction projects initiated by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev in Aghdam as well as the return of internally displaced persons”, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Commentary from Baku
According to political observer Asaf Quliyev, the transfer of minefield maps to Azerbaijan in exchange for 15 detained servicemen speaks of the will of the two countries to stabilize relations and open communications in the region:
“We can conclude that the West has understood that Azerbaijan would not just return the detained servicemen of the Armenian Armed Forces. In Armenia they are called prisoners of war, in our country they are called saboteurs or terrorists.
On the other hand, it is very clear that the refusal to hand over the maps of minefields which the Armenian side had did not in any way speak of the goodwill of the other side.
Now, when the so-called deal has already been completed, it can be stated that the parties made mutual concessions, and are ready for the maximum possible normalization of relations in the given circumstances”.
Moreover, Asaf Kuliev expects the continuation of the exchanges, which will become a logical progression of the process that has already begun:
“After all, it is no secret to anyone that the contacts between the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides to resolve issues of opening communications have continued, although they were not advertised. How can communications be open if the parties do not have at least the basic trust between each other?”
At the same time, Kuliev does not exclude surprises on the transferred cards:
“It is very possible that there will be some kind of surprises. Let’s say there will be no mines where it is indicated on the maps, and there will be mines where the maps are ‘clean’. It is impossible to map everything during the tension of wartime. This must be taken into account. But 97,000 mines is a very significant figure, and this will allow the Azerbaijani side to speed up the process of demining the territories liberated from the occupation”.
Asaf Guliyev is confident that the parties will continue to carry out exchanges in the same format:
“The entire civilized world recognizes the areas held by Armenia for almost 30 years around Nagorno-Karabakh. This is also reflected in UN resolutions. It is very natural that Armenia should hand over to Azerbaijan the maps of minefields in the territories of other liberated regions in exchange for the Armenian servicemen held in Azerbaijan.
There is no reason for Armenia in the current conditions to hide the cards it has, and there is no reason for Azerbaijan to detain the Armenian military personnel for years. Only the goodwill of both parties can finally bring peace to our region”.
Reports from Yerevan
Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced the return of 15 prisoners of war during a pre-election meeting with residents of Gegharkunik region:
“Our task at this moment is to meet the prisoners, to hand them over to their relatives and then deal with the issue of returning other prisoners”.
Armenian human rights activists say some 200 people are still detained in Azerbaijan. Pashinyan assured voters that everything possible was being done to return the rest of the prisoners from Azerbaijan:
“I would like to apologize to those parents whose sons will not return today, for another delay in their homecoming. I hope they will treat this with understanding”.
Commentary from Yerevan
Political observer Naira Hayrumyan emphasizes that the Armenian authorities have not yet commented on Baku’s message about the return of 15 Armenian prisoners in exchange for maps of minefields in the Agdam region:
“The topic of minefields has become especially popular in Azerbaijan lately. I suspect that the leadership in Baku is using the topic of minefields for very specific purposes. In particular, the leadership of Azerbaijan is using them to prohibit citizens, including those who came from the regions under Baku’s control, from returning to their former places of residence.
What caused this prohibition is anyone’s guess. Either Azerbaijan is not going to develop these territories, realizing that they will have to be returned, or it is preparing to create something in these territories that is incompatible with civilian life.
In addition, Baku is trying to use the issue of minefields to counterbalance Armenia’s world community’s accusations of inhuman behavior – keeping Armenian prisoners, preventing humanitarian and other international organizations in Artsakh, as well as refusing to negotiate within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.
By speaking of minefields, Azerbaijan is trying to show that the Armenians are supposedly cruel too. And the third reason is that in Azerbaijan they understand that they cannot keep the prisoners indefinitely, they need to be released, and it is necessary to present the “justifications” of this step to their society”.
Statements from Georgia and the US diplomats
15 of the detained citizens of Armenia have been returned by Azerbaijan in the territory of Georgia, with the facilitation of the Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and the US Acting Assistant Secretary Philip Reeker, Georgian government has stated.
The Prime minister of Georgia maintained constant communication with the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, and facilitated Armenia’s exchange of the minefield maps in return for its detained citizens.
The official statement emphasizes that that the exchnage was a “very important step aimed to improve the security situation in the region of South Caucasus that has been been made through active involvement of Georgia”.
The government of Georgia has also expressed its readiness to assist its partners in the future and be actively involved in the solution of humanitarian issues.
The US Embassy in Georgia has welcomed the release of 15 Armenian soldiers and Armenia’s decision to provide Azerbaijan with “important information that will facilitate humanitarian demining and avoid future casualties”.
In its special statement, the US Embassy has expressed its gratitude to the prime minister and the government of Georgia for “the essential role Georgia played in facilitating these steps, which bring the people of the region closer to the peaceful and prosperous future they deserve”.
“The United States is pleased to support these steps and hopes they will lay the groundwork for additional cooperation. We continue to call for the return of all detainees and stand ready to assist the countries of the region in their efforts to continue cooperation and resolve outstanding issues between them.
We also continue to urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to reengage in substantive negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to negotiate a comprehensive political settlement to the conflict”, the US Embassy statement reads.