STEPANAKERT — Three students from Artsakh were detained by Azerbaijani security forces on Monday while traveling to Armenia through the Lachin corridor.

Karabakh officials said that the young men, identified as Alen Sargsyan, Vahe Hovsepyan and Levon Grigoryan, were kidnapped at the Azerbaijani checkpoint blocking the corridor as they were escorted by Russian peacekeepers along with other Karabakh civilians.

One of the officials, Artak Beglaryan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the peacekeepers are negotiating with the Azerbaijani side to try have them freed. NKR President Arayik Harutyunyan held an emergency session of his security council later in the day.

“Azerbaijan is continuing its genocidal policy towards the people of Artsakh, once again violating international humanitarian law,” read a Karabakh statement issued shortly after the detentions.

The Azerbaijani authorities did not immediately comment on the arrests. But media outlets linked to them reported that the three Karabakh Armenians are suspected of being members of a Karabakh football team that had “disrespected” the Azerbaijani national flag in a 2021 video posted on social media.

Beglaryan said he “cannot confirm” that Sargsian, Hovsepian and Grigorian played for that youth team based in the Karabakh town of Martuni. “All three of them are students of Armenian universities,” he said.

In any case, added Beglaryan, the Azerbaijani allegations are “absurd” and aimed at intimidating Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population opposed to the restoration of Azerbaijani control over their region.

Hours following the kidnapping, Azerbaijan’s Office of the Prosecutor General reported in a statement that “the criminal proceedings against the Armenian football players arrested at the Lachin border point has been halted.”

Prosecutors have ordered a ten day administrative detention for the three young men, after which, according to the statement, the detained individuals will be expelled from Azerbaijan.

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