An elderly resident of a border village in Armenia’s northern Tavush region was reportedly detained by Azerbaijani authorities at the weekend after crossing into Azerbaijan in unclear circumstances.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Monday that the 77-year-old-woman, Lusine Abovian, was taken into custody in Azerbaijan’s Gazakh district bordering her village of Koti. It said that she is being treated “in accordance with international law” and will be repatriated after undergoing “proper procedures.”
Armenia’s Defense Ministry declined to comment on Abovian’s arrest, saying that police in Tavush are still looking for her.
Abovian’s relatives were confident that she crossed the heavily militarized border with Azerbaijan. Her son, Arbik Abovian, said she disappeared on Sunday afternoon while walking to her sister’s home located on the edge of the village.
“We spent the whole night looking for her and continued the search today, but to no avail,” Arbik told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The village mayor, Felix Melikian, said he believes that she is unlikely to have been kidnapped by Azerbaijani troops. He said the section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier near Koti is tightly guarded by Armenian soldiers.
Yerevan-based representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were quick to visit Koti and speak with Lusine Abovian’s relatives. An ICRC spokeswoman said the Red Cross cannot move to repatriate the woman before an official confirmation of her whereabouts by the authorities in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
At least three residents of Tavush strayed into Azerbaijan and were captured there last year. Two of them were branded Armenian “saboteurs” by the authorities in Baku and died shortly afterwards.
Karen Petrosian, a 33-year-old resident of Chinari village, was pronounced dead in August 2015 one day after being detained in an Azerbaijani village across the border. The Azerbaijani military claimed that he died of “acute heart failure.” The Armenian government and many in Chinari believe, however, that Petrosian was murdered or beaten to death.
The United States and France expressed serious concern at Petrosian’s suspicious death and called on Baku to conduct an objective investigation.
A 77-year-old resident of another Tavush village, Verin Karmiraghbyur, died in May 2015 three months after being detained on the Azerbaijani side of the frontier in similar circumstances. Doctors in Yerevan said the man, Mamikon Khojoyan, suffered serious injuries during his month-long captivity.
Another Armenian civilian, Manvel Saribekian, died in Azerbaijani custody in 2010. The 20-year-old Manvel Saribekian, whose Tutujur village is also very close to the Azerbaijani border, was paraded on Azerbaijani television following his capture.
Saribekian was found hanged in an Azerbaijani detention center shortly afterwards. The Azerbaijani authorities claimed that he committed suicide. The Armenian side said, however, that Saribekian was tortured to death or driven to suicide.