The Armenian Defense Ministry said that the 25-year-old soldier, identified as A. Katanian, lost his way and strayed into Azerbaijani-controlled territory in thick fog.
It flatly denied Azerbaijani authorities’ claims that he was part of an Armenian “sabotage group” that tried to lay landmines in the Lachin district bordering Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province.
Narek Ordian, a local councilor from the Syunik village of Verishen, said the incident took place at a nearby section of the frontier where Armenian and Azerbaijani troops have been facing off against each other for the past month. He described the official Armenian version of events as credible.
“When it’s foggy up there locals also often lose their way,” Ordian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan said nothing about efforts to secure the soldier’s release. Meanwhile, lawyers representing the Armenian government asked the European Court of Human Rights to order Baku to provide information about his whereabouts and health and detention conditions.
The border standoff began after Azerbaijani troops reportedly crossed several sections of the border and advanced a few kilometers into Syunik and another Armenian province, Gegharkunik, on May 12-14.
The Armenian Defense Ministry repeatedly threatened to take military action to force them to pull back. However, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian effectively ruled out the use of force even after one Armenian soldier was killed and six others captured by Azerbaijani forces late last month.
Ordian echoed critics’ claims that the caution exercised by the Armenian government only encourages Azerbaijani forces to remain in Armenian territory and keep holding the Armenian prisoners and even capture new ones.
“The authorities are to blame for all this,” he said. “Our army, our boys are on standby, waiting for an order. But that order isn’t coming. As soon as the order is issued we will capture not one but eleven [Azerbaijani soldiers] without a gunshot.”