The 30 prisoners of war (POWs) and 14 civilian captives, most of them residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, were flown to Yerevan by a Russian plane late on Monday. For its part, the Armenian side released 12 Azerbaijani prisoners.
All of the freed Armenians were hospitalized immediately after their repatriation. According to the Armenian Ministry of Health, the civilians were taken to civilian hospitals in Yerevan to undergo thorough checkups and, if necessary, receive medical treatment.
Officials confirmed that some of the 44 soldiers and civilians were captured by the Azerbaijani side before the recent Karabakh war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire. One of those servicemen, Arayik Ghazarian, was taken prisoner after straying into Azerbaijani territory in August 2019.
Ghazarian’s mother was among relatives of the freed POWs who waited outside a military hospital where the latter were examined by doctors.
“They were giving me hope, saying that if there is a prisoner swap Arayik will definitely come back because Azerbaijan did not bring criminal charges against him,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
The November 10 truce agreement commits the conflicting sides to exchanging all POWs and other captives held by them. Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian spoke on Monday of “intensive” efforts to secure the release of other Armenians remaining in Azerbaijani captivity.
Their precise number remains unclear. Armenian official say only that Azerbaijan has admitted holding fewer Armenian POWs than were captured by it during the six-week war.
“Some of the prisoners have been returned home but a large number of others remain in Azerbaijan,” said Artak Zeynalian, a human rights lawyer representing the families of dozens of POWs.