Many of those soldiers fought in the southern Hadrut and Jebrail districts that were captured by Azerbaijani forces during the six-week war stopped by a Russian-mediated ceasefire on November 10. The Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement also provides for a mutual handover of bodies of soldiers killed in action.
The authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert say that Azerbaijani side has still not granted the Armenian side, Russian peacekeepers or representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to the Hadrut and Jebrail battlefields. A Karabakh official said late last week that the bodies of 350 Karabakh and Armenian soldiers have been recovered from other sections of the “line of contact.”
These explanations did not satisfy the relatives of other missing soldiers. Hundreds of them protested outside the Armenian Defense Ministry for several days before Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian met with their representatives late on Monday.
Pashinian assured them that the Armenian authorities are doing their best to ascertain the whereabouts of their loved ones. He offered to appoint some of them to a government task force set up for that purpose.
Many of the relatives again gathered outside the Defense Ministry compound in Yerevan on Tuesday morning. Some went to the prime minister’s office to demand another meeting with Pashinian.
The protesters then rallied outside the Russian Embassy in Yerevan. They signed there a joint letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin which was handed by their representatives to Russia’s ambassador to Armenia, Sergei Kopyrkin.
One of the protesters, Yeghishe Zakunts, told reporters: “We are asking the Russian side and Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] personally to somehow get Azerbaijan’s government to let the peacekeepers or the Red Cross enter Hadrut and Jebrail so that we could at least get the bodies of our heroes.”
Armenia’s Health Ministry indicated on November 14 that at least 2,300 Armenian and Karabakh Armenian combatants died during the war. A ministry spokeswoman said the figure does not include soldiers remaining unaccounted for. Their total number is not yet known, she said.
The Armenian military has so far reported and identified more than 1,600 combat casualties within its ranks.
Azerbaijan has not disclosed the number of its soldiers killed in action.
The truce accord brokered by Putin also calls for an exchange of all Armenian and Azerbaijani prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian captives. It is not yet clear when the warring sides will start implementing this provision.
An ICRC spokeswoman in Yerevan, Zara Amatuni, said on Tuesday that Red Cross representatives have visited some Armenian and Azerbaijani POWs.
“Our mission is to keep trying to visit more individuals to check their detention conditions and help them stay in touch with their families,” Amatuni told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
About 50 Armenian POWs and civilians are reportedly held in Azerbaijani captivity. Acting on appeals lodged by Armenian human rights lawyers, the European Court of Human Rights has ordered Baku to provide information about their health and prison conditions.