YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Six Armenian soldiers were captured by Azerbaijani forces early on Thursday in a continuing military standoff on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said the soldiers were “surrounded and taken prisoner” while fortifying their border post in Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik province.
“Necessary measures are being taken to bring back the captured servicemen,” it said without elaborating.
In a statement, the ministry strongly denied the Azerbaijani military’s claims that they crossed into Azerbaijan on a sabotage mission.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan likewise insisted that the six servicemen were “kidnapped” within Armenia’s internationally recognized borders.
“The ongoing processes are unacceptable to us,” Pashinyan said at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “These kinds of incidents occur because some people want us to come to terms with the presence of Azerbaijani forces on our territory, which cannot take place.”
“This is a direct threat to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Armenia which constitutes a blatant violation of international law,” he said.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry also condemned the Azerbaijani actions and demanded the immediate release of the Armenians servicemen.
A deputy chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, Major-General Eduard Asryan, gave more details of the incident at a news conference held in the afternoon. Asrian said the soldiers were captured as Armenian army units set up a new border post to prevent Azerbaijani forces from advancing deeper into Armenian territory.
He said they did not open fire at the approaching Azerbaijani servicemen because Armenia’s “military-political leadership” is still trying to resolve the border dispute peacefully.
Asryan added that the Armenian military is now negotiating with the Azerbaijani side through Russian peacekeeping troops deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh. He said the Azerbaijanis are demanding that the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the new positions taken by them in the area in the morning. The Armenian side is ready to do that if the six soldiers are set free, the general told reporters.
The incident came two days after another Armenian soldier serving in Gegharkunik was killed by Azerbaijani forces in what was the first shootout reported during the border standoff.
Azerbaijani forces advanced several kilometers into Gegharkunik and another Armenian border region, Syunik, two weeks ago. The Armenian military responded by sending reinforcements to those areas. So far it has not acted on its threats to take military action and force the Azerbaijani side to pull back.
Pashinyan indicated that Armenia will continue to exercise caution even after the capture of its soldiers. He said Yerevan must remain “prudent” in the face of what he described as Azerbaijani attempts to provoke a new military conflict six months after Russia helped to stop the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Moscow has also tried to ease the ongoing standoff by calling on Armenia and Azerbaijan to set up a commission on border demarcation and offering to facilitate its work. Pashinyan on Wednesday publicly made the creation of such a body conditional on the Azerbaijani troops’ withdrawal from the Armenian border areas and the release of more than 100 Armenian prisoners remaining in Azerbaijani captivity.
Meanwhile, a senior Armenian lawmaker told reporters that Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunyan flew to Moscow on Thursday morning for “very important” talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. Pashinyan announced those talks on Wednesday.