Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh repatriated on Thursday the body of an Azerbaijani man who was killed last July in a reported shootout with Armenian military personnel in the Armenian-controlled Kelbajar district west of Karabakh.
The 36-year-old Hasan Hasanov was one of three Azerbaijanis who infiltrated the mountainous area sandwiched between Armenia and Karabakh on what the military authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert call a “sabotage” mission.
According to the Armenian military, Hasanov was shot dead after opening fire at a military vehicle that carried Major Sargis Abrahamian and the wife of another Karabakh Armenian army officer. Abrahamian died on the spot while the 37-year-old woman, Karine Davtian, was gravely wounded in the incident.
The two other Azerbaijanis, Shahbaz Quliyev and Dilgam Askerov, were arrested separately. Quliyev, 46, was tracked down several days before the deadly shootout.
Quliyev’s capture coincided with an official confirmation that a 17-year-old ethnic Armenian resident of Kelbajar, Smbat Tsakanian, went missing earlier in July. Tsakanian was found dead on July 15, the day after the announcement of Askerov’s arrest. The Karabakh authorities said afterwards that they believe the teenager was kidnapped and murdered by the Azerbaijani “saboteurs.”
The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly demanded the release Quliyev and Askerov, saying that they had the legal right to visit an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan that has been under Karabakh Armenian control since 1993. The Armenian side has rejected those demands. It has also made clear that the two men will not be treated as prisoners of war and will stand trial on murder and terrorism charges.
“The members of the neutralized sabotage group did not have any insignia and they grossly violated the rules and customs of warfare that are defined by international law, committing brutal and inhuman acts of infringement upon civilians,” Armenia’s Defense Ministry said in a July statement. It claimed that they were recruited and sent to Kelbajar by Azerbaijani authorities.
The Karabakh Armenian army, for its part, posted on its website photographs of an assault rifle, a pistol, hand grenades and ammunition which it said were confiscated from the Azerbaijanis in Kelbajar.
A Karabakh government commission dealing with prisoners of war and civilian captives said on Thursday that Hasanov’s body was repatriated through a section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” northeast of Karabakh. It said the handover was organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.