Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have opened criminal proceedings in connection with an alleged Azerbaijani ‘sabotage’ group infiltration into the territory controlled by the unrecognized republic’s ethnic Armenian forces.
The Defense Ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday said two members of the group that allegedly penetrated into the Kelbajar district last week had been captured, while others had been ‘destroyed’. It did not give a specific number.
Reports last week said Azerbaijani ‘saboteurs’ had carried out an attack on a vehicle in Kelbajar, an Armenian-controlled district sandwiched between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, killing an Armenian officer and wounding the wife of another officer. The attacker was reportedly killed later by Armenian forces.
On July 10, Nagorno-Karabakh authorities said they had captured at least one attacker, whom they identified as 46-year-old Shahbaz Quliyev. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry denied the claims and said Quliyev is not an officer in the Azerbaijani Army.
The Prosecutor’s Office in Stepanakert today identified the second arrested person as 54-year-old citizen of Azerbaijan Dilham Askerov. It said both arrested persons had been armed.
The Armenian Defense Ministry had said the captured ‘saboteurs’ would not be given the status of prisoners of war, but rather would be prosecuted in accordance with the Armenian penal code.
“The members of the neutralized sabotage group did not have any marks of distinction and had grossly violated the laws and customs of war that are defined by international law, committing cruel and inhuman acts of infringement upon civilians,” the Armenian military emphasized, adding that, if necessary, evidence could be provided to relevant international agencies.
“The saboteurs will answer for their actions in accordance with our laws and international norms,” Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian stressed on Tuesday, informing the media about the start of criminal proceedings in connection with the matter.
Ohanian did not mention the charges that may be brought against the Azerbaijani captives, but earlier the Armenian Defense Ministry listed a series of crimes that they are suspected of committing while in Armenian-controlled territory. Among them illegal crossing of the border, murder, attempted murder, attempts to photograph ‘specially protected areas’, and others. It said Article 4 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War could not be applied to the arrested Azerbaijani citizens as there is ‘irrefutable evidence’ that they were members of a ‘criminal group’ recruited by Azerbaijani authorities for the purpose of carrying out sabotage activities.
“The leadership of the enemy army also uses criminal elements that are familiar to the territory in reconnaissance-sabotage activities. They committed crimes according to our legislation,” Minister Ohanian said, stressing that the Armenian side does not want a second war, but also reminding that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh defeated Azerbaijan in the first war that had been ‘foisted upon them’.
Armenia’s former ombudsperson Larisa Alaverdian also said that the arrested citizens of Azerbaijan could not be given the status of POWs and, therefore, were not subject to repatriation. “They are persons who have committed heavy crimes in the territory of another country,” she said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
Meanwhile, reports from Karabakh said the body of a missing 17-year-old Armenian resident of the Kelbajar district was found today quite a long way from the community where he lived. The parents of Smbat Tsakanian, from the village of Nor Erkej, believe their son, who was missing since July 4, had been kidnapped and killed by Azerbaijani commandos. Officials in Stepanakert did not rule out a connection between the teenager’s disappearance and the alleged Azerbaijani infiltration.