An Azerbaijani man was detained by the National Security Service (NSS) after reportedly crossing into Armenia on Friday.
The NSS said that the 26-year-old man will be held in detention pending investigation. It said it is now trying to “ascertain all circumstances of the illegal border crossing.”
The detention was first reported by the head of the administration of Areguni, a village in Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik region bordering the Gedabey district in western Azerbaijan.
The official, Sos Hovannisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the man, who identified himself as Elshan Aliyev, was first spotted by another village resident and escorted to his office in the morning. Hovannisian said he spoke to him before alerting the NSS.
In Hovannisian’s words, Aliyev claimed to who have worked as a shepherd for an Azerbaijani farmer in a Gedabey village and decided to flee to Armenia because of being mistreated and not paid by his employer. “He told me: “I want to move to a third country but if you give me a job here I’d love to stay with you Armenians,’” said Hovannisian.
The village chief added that the young Azerbaijani was poorly dressed and had a flour sack filled with his personal belongings. The NSS also said that he carried a sack.
The Yerevan office of the International Committee of the Red Cross said that it has already contacted the Armenian authorities in connection with the detention. The Azerbaijani government did not immediately react to it.
Areguni is located on the eastern shore of Lake Sevan just a few kilometers from one of the most mountainous sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
Hovannisian claimed that another Azerbaijani national was detained in a nearby Armenian village earlier this year. The Armenian authorities did not report such an incident, however.
Throughout the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict dozens of residents of Armenian and Azerbaijani border villages have crossed the heavily militarized frontier. The vast majority of them are believed to have strayed into enemy territory mistakenly.
In September 2010, a 20-year-old resident of another Gegharkunik village, Manvel Saribekian crossed into Azerbaijan and was immediately accused by Baku of planning to carry out terrorist attacks.
Saribekian was found hanged in an Azerbaijani detention center one month later. Azerbaijani officials claimed that he committed suicide. But in a January 2020 ruling, the European Court of Human Rights backed Armenian forensic experts’ conclusion that young man was tortured to death.
Another Armenian villager, Karen Petrosian, was pronounced dead in August 2014 one day after being detained in an Azerbaijani village across the border. The Azerbaijani military claimed that he died of “acute heart failure.”
The Armenian authorities believe, however, that Petrosian was murdered or beaten to death. The United States and France expressed serious concern at Petrosian’s suspicious death and called on Baku to conduct an objective investigation.
At least one Armenian national is known to be currently held in an Azerbaijani prison. Karen Ghazarian, a resident of the Tavush province bordering Azerbaijan, was captured in July 2018.
In February 2019, an Azerbaijani court sentenced Ghazarian to 20 years in prison on charges of plotting terrorist attacks and “sabotage” in Azerbaijan. Yerevan condemned the ruling and demanded Ghazarian’s immediate release.
No Azerbaijani villagers are known to have died in Armenian captivity.