Will Armenia and Azerbaijan exchange prisoners? Opinions from Armenian experts
Both Yerevan and Baku are discussing the issue of whether an exchange of prisoners will take place and whether they will be able to negotiate an exchange in which all prisoners are released, which Azerbaijan had previously proposed and which was rejected by the Armenian side.
The issue once again became relevant after Baku announced that an Armenian officer had been captured on August 23. He has been declared a ‘saboteur’ by the Azerbaijani side, he has already been accused of a number of charges.
Armenia denies that it was a diversion, and claims that Gurgen Alaverdyan went to check on a military base and got lost due to weather conditions.
In addition, the Armenian Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have already accused Azerbaijan of violating the rights of a prisoner of war.
Azerbaijan published a video statement made by Gurgen Alaverdyan in which he states that he “regrets his actions and wishes to serve Azerbaijan”. Armenia believes that Azerbaijan forced officer Alaverdyan to read this text, which “is a clear and gross violation of international humanitarian law”.
More details on how the Armenian officer ended up in captivity and on if there will still be an exchange of prisoners between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Opinions from Armenian experts based on information published by Caucasian Knot.
“Saboteur”, “lost”, “abducted”?
Ayik Khachikyan, analyst for the military-analytical publication Razm.info, does not doubt the veracity of the Armenian ministry of defense’s claim that Gurgen Alaverdyan got lost. He points out that Armenian military department only published this information after Azerbaijan announced that they had captured an Armenian saboteur because at the time, they were still searching for him:
“The Azerbaijani side organized a theatrical performance detailing the capture of a saboteur…In particular, they showed the tactical vest [designed to carry ammunition – JAMnews] that was allegedly worn by the Armenian officer. But a detailed analysis shows that this model of vest, as well as the weapons, is the kind used by the Azerbaijani army”.
Military expert from the analytical research center “Orbeli” Vlad Vartanyan also does not doubt Armenia’s official story, taking into account the geography and location of posts on this section of the border. He also says that “we do not use this model of vests in the Armenian army”.
At the same time, the expert does not rule out the possibility that the Armenian officer could have been captured and kidnapped. But this, he says, would already have been shown by the investigation:
“Presenting the Armenian hostage as a saboteur is a classic move on for Azerbaijan”.
Lragir.am political observer Naira Hayrumyan suggests that the Armenian officer could have been kidnapped in order to facilitate a prisoner exchange. She justifies this assumption with the fact that immediately after the incident, Azerbaijani experts and political scientists raised the question of exchange.
Will there be an exchange?
Azerbaijan has offered a prisoner exchange to Armenia more than once, but the Armenian side refused. The fact is that official Baku and Yerevan have opposing ideas of how exactly these people were captured.
Azerbaijanis Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev in Karabakh were sentenced to life and 22 years in prison, respectively, on charges of murder, espionage and abduction, while in Azerbaijan, they believe that they crossed into Armenian territory to visit the graves of their ancestors.
In addition to officer Gurgen Alaverdyan, Karen Ghazaryan and Arayik Ghazaryan have also been captured by Azerbaijan. The first is also considered a saboteur in Baku, while in Armenia they say he is mentally unwell. The second, says Azerbaijan, fled the military due to inhumane treatment. In Armenia, it is believed that Ghazaryan got lost.
Hayk Khachikyan, an analyst at the military-analytical portal Razm.info, believes that Azerbaijan claims these Armenian prisoners are saboteurs in order to exchange them for Guliyev and Askerov:
“Prisoner exchange is a very difficult issue and any decision will be painful. In addition to the military, there are also civilians in Azerbaijani captivity. On the one hand, the state is responsible for its citizens, and it needs to take steps to return them. But on the other hand, these two [Guliyev and Askerov] were convicted of murder”.
Military expert of the Orbeli analytical research center Vlad Vartanyan, that exchanging Armenian prisoners of war for Guliyev and Askerov would be a mistake:
“I think the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh will not agree to this. It is regrettable that Alaverdyan will face a false accusation of attempted sabotage and the resulting prison term”.
Naira Hayrumyan, a political observer for Lragir.am, thinks it will be possible to exchange the prisoners on an “all for all” basis:
“Now [August 25] Russian Defense Minister Shoigu is in Baku, and tomorrow Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Bayramov will visit Russia. After the Tavush aggravation [an escalation on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan in July 2020 – JAMnews], Russia and Azerbaijan are trying to reestablish relations, and “the exchange of prisoners of all for all” may become a foundational pillar of their new and improved relationship”.
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