The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday that it is trying to arrange the repatriation of the body of an Armenian man who died one day after being detained in Azerbaijan last week.
Karen Petrosian, a 33-year-old resident of an Armenian border village, wandered into Azerbaijan for unknown reasons and was arrested by military authorities there on Thursday. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Friday that Petrosian has died of “acute heart failure.”
The Armenian government and military challenged the official cause of the villager’s death, suggesting that he was murdered or beaten to death. They also shrugged off Baku’s claims that he was part of an Armenian commando squad that attempted to carry out sabotage attacks in Azerbaijan.
Those claims also contradict eyewitness accounts. Residents of an Azerbaijani border village, who were the first to spot Petrosian, told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service that the Armenian was alone and unarmed. An amateur video posted on the Internet over the weekend shows Petrosian having a conversation with local men before being arrested by military officials.
The ICRC office in Yerevan said Red Cross officials are now trying to help the Armenian authorities repatriate Petrosian’s body. “A dialogue with the authorities on both sides is continuing but I cannot publicly comment on progress,” its spokeswoman, Zara Amatuni, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “When the parties reach an agreement the Red Cross will be able to assist the authorities in the body’s repatriation in accordance with its neutral status.”
Amatuni declined to clarify whether the two sides are discussing the possibility of exchanging the corpse with the body of an Azerbaijani man who was killed last month in a reported shootout with military personnel in the Armenian-controlled Kelbajar district west of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armen Kaprielian, the head of an Armenian government commission dealing with prisoners of war and civilian captives, implied earlier this week that the Armenian side is ready to consider such a swap. A member of the commission, Zarine Hakobian, accused Baku on Thursday of delaying the body’s repatriation in order to remove traces of violence from it.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry hit out at domestic critics who say that it is doing little to secure international condemnation of Petrosian’s brutal treatment by Azerbaijan. The ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, said it issued a statement shortly after the announcement of Petrosian’s death and is raising the matter with various international bodies.