By Emil Danielyan
Military authorities in Baku and Yerevan have made conflicting statements about the circumstances in which four Armenians crossed into Azerbaijan and were taken prisoner there earlier this month.
News of their capture was first reported by Azerbaijani media on Monday and confirmed by the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry the next day. A ministry spokesman, Eldar Sabiroglu, was quoted by the Day.az news service as saying that the four young men are Armenian army commandos who were sent to Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave on a sabotage mission.
An Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman, Seyran Shahsuvarian, insisted, however, that all of them are civilians who accidentally strayed into Azerbaijani territory after visiting their friend serving in an Armenian army unit stationed in the southern Vayots Dzor region that borders on Nakhichevan. “The Armenian side has asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to organize their repatriation with the help of its office in Baku,” he said in a statement.
The Yerevan newspaper “168 Zham” reported on Tuesday that the captives were part of a larger group of residents of the eastern Gegharkunik region who rushed to the Vayots Dzor base on April 19 after a phone call from their soldier friend. Citing the captives’ parents, the paper said he claimed to have been harassed by fellow army conscripts. It said that immediately after arriving at the base the 13 Gegharkunik residents got embroiled in a violent dispute with those soldiers that was stopped by gunshots fired into the air by the unit commander.
Jivan Torosian, the father of one of the captives, told “168 Zham” that nine of the civilians were arrested on the sport and have since been kept in custody in the regional capital Yeghegnadzor. Torosian said his son Karen and the three other men fled the scene and were unaccounted for until the Azerbaijani military reported their capture ten days later. According to the paper, Shahsuvarian did not deny this version of events, saying that “an incident occurred there because of a soldier who had a conflict” with other servicemen.
The capture of the four Armenians was revealed five days after Armenia sent home yet another Azerbaijani soldier who deserted from his unit and the crossed Armenian-Azerbaijani border, claiming to have been systematically mistreated by his commanders. As always, the repatriation was arranged by the Red Cross.