The ceasefire agreement that stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war on November 10 calls for the unconditional exchange of all prisoners held by the conflicting parties.
So far 54 Armenians have been freed and returned home in prisoner exchanges facilitated by Russia. More than 100 others remain in Azerbaijani captivity.
Pashinian discussed their fate with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during their January 11 talks in Moscow hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. They failed to reach any agreements on the issue.
A joint statement issued by the three leaders reaffirmed instead Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s plans to open their border for cargo and other traffic in line with the truce accord brokered by Putin. Armenian opposition leaders denounced Pashinian for agreeing to that without getting Aliyev to promise to release the remaining Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians.
Lawmakers representing the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) faulted Pashinian for their continuing imprisonment during the Armenian government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament.
“This proves that you are unable to protect Armenia’s interests on this important subject in Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations. Why do you continue to serve and why aren’t you resigning?” one of them, Gevorg Gorgisian, told the prime minister.
“There have always been Armenian prisoners in Azerbaijan,” countered Pashinian. “More prisoners have been returned to Armenia since November 9 than ever before. So I wonder why this issue had not been raised in this chamber for many years.”
Arsen Gharakhanian, a 43-year-old resident of Karabakh who fought in the six-week war, was thought to be among the POWs held in Azerbaijan. His family recognized him in an amateur video posted by Azerbaijani social media users on January 7.
The Armenian government used the video to ask the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to issue an “interim measure” requiring Baku to provide information about Gharakhanian’s whereabouts and guarantee his safety.
A Karabakh search-and-rescue team found Gharakhanian shot dead on January 18 in Karabakh’s Hadrut district occupied by Azerbaijani forces as it looked for the bodies of Armenian soldiers killed there during the recent hostilities.
“According to our information he was killed several days ago,” said Yeghishe Kirakosian, the Armenian government’s representative to the ECHR. “That is to say that he was killed after the [Strasbourg-based] court issued the interim measure.”
According to Gharakhanian’s wife Varduhi, the father of four went missing in early October. He was buried in Stepanakert on Wednesday.