By Emil Danielyan
Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh sent home on Friday an Azerbaijani civilian who crossed into Armenian-controlled territory east of the disputed territory in uncertain circumstances about three months ago.
Ashraf Jafarov, a 22-year-old resident of a nearby Azerbaijani village, had been kept in custody ever since being spotted and captured by Karabakh Armenian on June 30. It is still not clear whether he crossed the heavily fortified frontline willingly or by accident.
Bako Sahakian, the recently elected president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, personally ordered Jafarov’s release last week as a gesture of good will.
Azerbaijani media reports said the International Committee of the Red Cross helped to arrange the repatriation, which took place in the mostly Armenian-controlled Aghdam district of Azerbaijan. Jafarov was said to have undergone medical examination in an Azerbaijani hospital military immediately afterwards.
The handover went ahead despite renewed skirmishes reported from the Aghdam section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact on Thursday. According to the Azerbaijani news agency APA, an Azerbaijani soldier was shot dead in the fighting. The Defense Ministry in Baku did not confirm the information.
Two other Azerbaijani army conscripts were reportedly killed in the same area earlier this month. The Azerbaijani military blames such incidents on Armenian ceasefire violations which it says have become more frequent of late.
Military officials in Yerevan and Stepanakert have denied the claims and reported no Armenian casualties in recent weeks. Armenia’s Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian insisted on Friday that Armenian forces respect the ceasefire regime and only return fire. “Maybe the Azerbaijani side wants to boost the vigilance of its people with such statements,” he told reporters.
Harutiunian also said that the number of skirmishes along the Karabakh frontline and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border has actually decreased by 40 percent this year.
(Photolur photo: Karabakh soldiers pictured during military exercises this month.)