Azerbaijan has released three Armenian civilians who were captured by its troops during the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to Armenian government officials, they were freed with the help of Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in the Karabakh conflict zone and flown to Yerevan late on Wednesday. Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, visited them on Thursday.
Tatoyan’s Karabakh counterpart, Artak Beglaryan, said the freed captives are elderly persons who lived in Karabakh settlements occupied by Azerbaijani troops during the war. They all have serious health problems, he said.
In a Facebook post, Beglaryan announced that Baku also repatriated the body of another elderly Armenian who died in Azerbaijani captivity. The cause of his death is not yet known to the Armenian side, he added.
The Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire agreement that stopped the war on November 10 calls for the exchange of all prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians held by the conflicting sides. Armenian officials have accused Baku of badly mistreating Armenian POWs and delaying their release.
Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan said on Wednesday that the prisoner exchange will start after the two sides ascertain their respective lists of POWs.
“We are trying to carry out that process as quickly as possible,” Avinyan told the Armenian parliament. “We have proposed the all-for-all principle [for the POW exchange.] The Azerbaijani side also favors this principle, according to their statements.”
Armenia’s and Karabakh’s closely integrated armed forces have not yet given the official number of their soldiers taken prisoner during the six-week war. Beglaryan said last week that his office has identified about 60 POWs shown in videos widely circulated on Azerbaijani social media accounts.
In a December 3 report, Human Rights Watch said the videos provide ample evidence of “inhumane” treatment of Armenian soldiers. “They [Azerbaijani forces] subjected these prisoners of war (POWs) to physical abuse and humiliation,” said the U.S.-based group.