France has joined the United States in deploring the suspicious death of an Armenian man in Azerbaijani custody and urging Azerbaijan to investigate its cause.
Baku angrily rejected the U.S. and French criticism on Friday, accusing Washington and Paris of siding with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
"France was shocked to learn about the death on August 8 of the Armenian national Karen Petrosian, who was detained in Azerbaijan,” a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement cited by Armenews.com late on Thursday. “It offers its condolences to the family of Mr. Petrosian.”
“We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to expedite the repatriation of his body and shed light on the circumstances of the death,” added the short statement.
The U.S. State Department likewise said last week that it is “deeply concerned” by Petrosian’s death, which was announced the day after he wandered into Azerbaijan in still unclear circumstances. A department spokesman called on the Azerbaijani government to “conduct a full and transparent investigation into this incident and to make its findings public.”
The Azerbaijani military claimed that Petrosian, who lived in an Armenian village close to the Azerbaijani border, died of “acute heart failure.” It accused him of being part of an Armenian “sabotage group” that tried to infiltrate Azerbaijan. The Armenian authorities dismissed those claims, saying that Petrosian was a civilian murdered or tortured to death by his Azerbaijani interrogators.
Baku’s allegations also contradict accounts from residents of an Azerbaijani border village, who were apparently the first to spot the 33-year-old Armenian.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry insisted on those allegations as it responded to the embarrassing U.S. and French criticism. “The methodical exaggeration of the case of Karen Petrosian and attempts to politicize it are aimed at covering up atrocities committed by Armenia,” the ministry charged in a statement.
The authorities in Yerevan are now trying to have Petrosian’s body repatriated through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Hasanov said on Friday that Baku is ready to hand over the corpse in a complex swap that would also involve the five members of an Armenian family that fled to Azerbaijan several years ago and three Azerbaijanis who infiltrated the Armenian-controlled Kelbajar district west of Nagorno-Karabakh in July. According to Hasanov, the Armenian side has rejected this proposal communicated through the Red Cross.
The Armenian Defense Ministry dismissed Hasanov’s statement reported by Azerbaijani news agencies. “This is ugly disinformation. We are not in a marketplace,” Artsrun Hovannisian, the ministry spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Authorities in Karabakh say that the three Azerbaijanis killed two Armenians, including a 17-year-old man, and seriously wounded another during what they call a sabotage mission in Kelbajar. One of the Azerbaijanis, identified as Hasan Hasanov, was killed in a reported shootout with Armenian military personnel, while the two others were separately caught and arrested. The Karabakh government has made clear that they will not be treated as prisoners of war and will stand trial on murder and terrorism charges instead.
The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly demanded the release of the two middle-aged men, Shahbaz Guliyev and Dilgam Askerov, saying that they had the legal right to visit the area. The Foreign Ministry in Baku accused the U.S. and France on Friday of being indifferent to their “inhuman treatment.”