Relatives of two Azerbaijanis who have been arrested in Nagorno-Karabakh on charges of espionage and subversive activities want Russia to mediate their release.
According to Azerbaijani news agency APA, members of the families of Dilham Askerov and Shahbaz Quliev whom authorities in Stepanakert accuse of being members of a sabotage group that allegedly infiltrated into the Armenian-controlled district of Kelbajar earlier this month, have submitted letters addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Vladimir Dorokhin asking for their intervention in the case.
Ethnic Armenian prosecutors in the self-proclaimed republic say Askerov, Quliev and another member of the alleged sabotage group illegally crossed into the Nagorno-Karabakh-controlled territory in order to engage in criminal activities, including espionage. Among the charges brought against the two is the kidnapping and killing of a 17-year-old Armenian civilian in Kelbajar.
The third man, later identified as Hasan Hasanov, is said to have been killed while resisting his apprehension. Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian investigators say before that Hasanov attacked a vehicle in the territory of Kelbajar, killing an army officer and severely wounding the wife of another serviceman.
Officials in Baku deny the citizens arrested by Karabakh forces are ‘saboteurs’. Head of Azerbaijan’s State Committee for Refugees and Displaced Persons, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Hasanov, in particular, told media that the captured men were simply visiting the graves of their parents and relatives near their native villages in Kelbajar. He said they had also done so before without getting caught.
Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh’s authorities said that the arrested Azerbaijanis would be treated as suspected criminals and not as prisoners of war and, therefore, they would be tried by Karabakh laws and would not be subject to repatriation.
According to the appeals of the families of the Azerbaijanis, Askerov and Quliyev’s wife Albina Veselova are citizens of Russia. The Russian embassy in Baku later reportedly denied that Askerov is a Russian citizen. It said, however, that the letters would be “carefully studied.”
Earlier, Azerbaijan’s State Committee for Refugees and Displaced Persons said that the case of the arrested Azerbaijanis was under President Ilham Aliyev’s ‘personal control’.