Two residents of Armenian border villages who crossed into Azerbaijan in unclear circumstances over the weekend were freed and sent back home by Azerbaijani authorities on Wednesday.
The repatriation facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) took place at the westernmost section of the heavily militarized Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Mnatsakan Karian, an 86-year-old resident of Dovegh village in Armenia’s northern Tavush province, crossed the frontier on Saturday. Anahit Arakelian, a 48-year-old woman from a nearby village, did the same on Sunday.
The reasons for the crossings remain unclear. Military authorities in Yerevan have not yet commented on those incidents.
Both Karian and Arakelian were detained immediately after entering Azerbaijan. The ICRC said its representatives visited them “in order to assess their treatment and conditions of internment.”
“Acting as a neutral intermediary and in accordance with its mandate, the ICRC facilitated this repatriation in conjunction with the Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities,” read a statement by the Red Cross. “The internees had previously confirmed to ICRC delegates that both were returning of their own free will.”
Throughout the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, civilian residents of Armenian and Azerbaijani settlements located close to the frontier have occasionally crossed it, usually because of going astray. In one such example, an Azerbaijani villager crossed into Tavush last November and was repatriated two weeks later.
Manvel Saribekian, a 20-year-old Armenian civilian, met a more tragic fate. Saribekian was found hanged in an Azerbaijani prison cell three weeks after being detained by Azerbaijani border troops in September 2010.
The Azerbaijani government said he committed suicide, a claim strongly denied by the Armenian authorities. They said Saribekian was brutally tortured and murdered in Azerbaijani custody.
Saribekian’s body was subsequently swapped for a living Azerbaijani civilian who was detained in Armenia in 2009.