The Armenian military repatriated over the weekend the body of an Azerbaijani soldier who was killed in late December in what it described as an armed Azerbaijani incursion into Armenia.
The 22-year-old soldier, Chingiz Qurbanov, as well as three Armenian servicemen were shot dead on December 29 at an Armenian army post in the northern Tavush province bordering western Azerbaijan. Officials in Yerevan say the fact that the Azerbaijani serviceman’s body was left lying in Armenian territory proves that the post was attacked by Azerbaijani troops.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry denied launching an incursion in the mountainous area, however. It claimed that an Armenian “reconnaissance squad” was ambushed by its forces while trying to cross into Azerbaijan.
Qurbanov’s body was returned to the Azerbaijani side with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The handover took place on Sunday at another Tavush section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
U.S., Russian and French mediators dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict deplored last month the “attempted incursion on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.” But they stopped short of explicitly blaming Armenia or Azerbaijan for the December 29 incident. The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group also urged Yerevan to repatriate Qurbanov’s body “without delay.”
In a weekend statement, Armenia’s Defense Ministry said forensic experts in Yerevan have finished examining the body as part of a criminal investigation into the border incident conducted by Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
The Armenian military accused Azerbaijani forces of attempting a similar command raid into northern Karabakh on February 1. Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army claimed to have thwarted the incursion, capturing one Azerbaijani soldier as a result.
The Azerbaijani Defense Minister denied attacking Karabakh Armenian positions in the area which saw heavy fighting in April 2016. It claimed that the captured man, Elnur Huseynzade, was demobilized “some time ago.”
However, Huseynzade’s mother told an Azerbaijani media outlet that he did serve in the Azerbaijani army up until his capture. Military authorities in Stepanakert insist that he was armed and wore a military uniform while being taken prisoner.
Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, Ruben Melikian, visited Huseynzade in custody on Saturday. A statement by Melikian’s office said the 22-year-old Azerbaijani did not complain of his health condition or treatment by local investigators. The statement added that Melikian expressed readiness to assist him in exercising his “fundamental rights.”
Meanwhile, a Karabakh Armenian soldier, Gor Gareginian, was killed on Monday morning in a fresh ceasefire violation reported from the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh. The Karabakh Defense Army said it is investigating the incident.
The Armenian government maintains that Baku is refusing to implement confidence-building agreements that were reached by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents at their last two meetings held in May and June 2016. They were meant to minimize truce violations through the deployment of more OSCE observers in the conflict zone and the launch of international investigations of armed incidents there.
In their joint statement issued on January 9, the Minsk Group co-chairs urged the two sides to “strictly observe” those agreements.