15 Armenians detained by Azerbaijan have been returned in what appears to be an exchange for maps of 92,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in Azerbaijan’s Fuzuli and Zangilan regions on 3 July. Both Baku and Yerevan have thanked Russia for its efforts in mediating the diplomatic exercise.
The Armenian government reports that all of the returned detainees are from the Shirak region – part of the group detained on 16 December 2020 in the southern part of Nagorno-Karabakh. 12 of those returned were sentenced by an Azerbaijani court of Friday (2 July) to six months of imprisonment for illegally crossing into Azerbaijani territory. A statement by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) says that the men were “imprisoned by the court's verdict and the term of the imposed sentence has expired”. Sputnik reports that it was possible to include a further three Armenian detainees in the list due to the efforts of the commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, Rustam Muradov.
The Azerbaijani MFA’s statement said that the maps of landmines “will save the lives of tens of thousands of our citizens, including those involved in mine clearance, and will accelerate the implementation of reconstruction and rehabilitation projects”.
This is the second such exchange, with 15 Armenian detainees being returned on 12 June, with Yerevan giving Baku mine maps of the Agdam region. This previous exercise was mediated by US and Georgian diplomats.
Yesterday's exercise has been welcomed by a number of international voices. The European Union’s Special Representative to the South Caucasus referred to it on his twitter page as “excellent news”:
Excellent news from Baku and Yerevan. Good that more 🇦🇲detainees have been released. Important also that more mine maps have been exchanged to prevent 🇦🇿 casualties.— Toivo Klaar (@ToivoKlaar) July 4, 2021
Likewise, Ann Linde, the Swedish foreign minister and current OSCE Chairperson-in-office, welcomed the news, expressing hope that further confidence building can pave the way for a “sustainable settlement” under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group:
Welcome the additional release of 15 Armenian 🇦🇲detainees by Azerbaijan 🇦🇿and Armenian release of maps of mines. Appreciative of Russian 🇷🇺 mediation. Hope more confidence-building can pave way for sustainable settlement under auspices of @OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.#OSCE2021SWE— Ann Linde (@AnnLinde) July 4, 2021
An unknown number of Armenians remain in Azerbaijani detention.