The Azerbaijani authorities repatriated on Friday the body of a resident of an Armenian border village who died in suspicious circumstances one day after wandering into Azerbaijan in early August.
An Azerbaijani government commission dealing with prisoners of war and civilian captives and the International Committee of the Red Cross said Karen Petrosian’s body was handed over to Armenian officials at a western section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
The handover took place several dozen kilometers from Chinari, a village in Armenia’s Tavush province where Petrosian lived until crossing the border with Azerbaijan for still unknown reasons. He was first spotted by residents of Agbulaq, an Azerbaijani village close to Chinari, and handed over to the Azerbaijani military. The 33-year-old was then paraded on Azerbaijani television and accused of being part of an Armenian “sabotage group” that tried to infiltrate Azerbaijan.
Petrosian was pronounced dead the following day. The authorities in Baku claimed that he died of “acute heart failure.” The Armenian government dismissed those claims, saying that Petrosian was murdered or tortured to death by his Azerbaijani interrogators. It also insisted that he was a civilian who crossed into Azerbaijan by accident.
Baku’s allegations also contradicted accounts from residents of Agbulaq who were the first to notice and speak to the Armenian. Interviewed by RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service, they said that he was not armed.
Petrosian’s death prompted serious concern from the United States and Frances, two of the three mediating powers trying to broker a solution to the Karabakh conflict. The U.S. State Department called on the Azerbaijani government to “conduct a full and transparent investigation into this incident and to make its findings public.”
Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Hasanov said later in August that Baku is ready to hand over Petrosian’s corpse in a complex swap that would also involve 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.
One of those Azerbaijanis, Hasan Hasanov, was shot dead in a shootout with Armenian military personnel. According to authorities in Karabakh, he was gunned down after killing an Armenian army officer and wounding another person. They say that the three Azerbaijanis also kidnapped and murdered another Armenian resident of Kelbajar.
Hasanov’s body was repatriated last week. The two other Azerbaijanis remain in Karabakh Armenian custody and will go on trial soon.