Two Azerbaijani men accused by ethnic Armenian authorities in Karabakh of “illegally crossing the border” and “committing acts of sabotage”, including the killing of a teen, went on trial in the unrecognized republic’s capital Stepanakert on Monday amid protests from Baku that demands repatriation of its citizens.
Prosecutors in the case say Shahbaz Quliyev, 46, and Dilham Askerov, 54, who were arrested separately in July, are saboteurs and infiltrated the territory of Karabakh for the purpose of carrying out spying and sabotage activities. They are charged under a number of articles of the unrecognized republic’s penal code. In particular, they are accused of murdering 17-year-old villager Smbat Tsakanian and 42-year-old officer Sargis Abrahamian, as well as wounding the wife of another serviceman, 37-year-old Karine Davtian.
Another Azerbaijani suspected saboteur was reportedly killed after showing resistance while being apprehended by security forces. Karabakh authorities repatriated the body of 36-year-old Hasan Hasanov to Azerbaijan earlier this month.
The incidents reportedly took place in Kelbajar, a mountainous area sandwiched between Armenia and Karabakh. They preceded a major outbreak of violence in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict zone in late July and early August that claimed the lives of dozens of servicemen on both sides.
Official Baku insists that none of the Azerbaijanis accused of sabotage by Armenians are servicemen or were hired to commit undermining activities in Karabakh. In Azerbaijan some media presented them as citizens hailing from Kelbajar who regularly visited the graves of their family members that remained in the territory controlled by the Armenian military after the 1994 ceasefire.
The Armenian side has rejected such claims, making it clear that the two men will not be treated as prisoners of war and will stand trial on murder and terrorism charges.
Under the laws of Karabakh both Azerbaijanis have been provided with defense attorneys. An interpreter is also available for the defendants during the trial.
At the beginning of the court proceedings Quliyev pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering Tsakanian and illegally crossing the border, but he admitted to stealing money from the Armenian teenager, who was later found dead.
While Azerbaijan does not recognize the jurisdiction of the Karabakh court, David Babayan, a spokesperson for the unrecognized republic’s president, said that “the trial will be held in accordance with standards of a civilized country.” He said that the local justice system will ensure a fair trial “no matter how hard it will be for us to do, since these people are charged with very heavy crimes.”
“They have been provided with lawyers and these lawyers will do everything to defend their interests. Only the court will give the final verdict,” the official told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).