Yesterday evening (19 October), five Armenian servicemen detained by Azerbaijan were returned to Armenia. According to a news report by Sputnik Armenia, the plane from Baku landed at Erebuni airport carrying Mels Ambardanyan, Rafik Karapetyan, Jora Manukyan, Hovsep Manukyan, and Sedrak Soghomonyan.
The servicemen were accompanied by the former commander of the Russian military contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov, who oversaw previous handovers. The group was greeted at the airport by the Russian ambassador to Armenia, Sergei Kopyrkin, and the commander of the Armenian-Russian united group of forces, Major General Tigran Parvanyan.
The last time Azerbaijan released an Armenian detainee was earlier this month when Baku returned one Armenian servicemen who went missing in late August 2021. Previous exchanges have included Armenia handing over landmine maps, though it is as of yet unclear whether this has been the case in the current exchange.
According to an unnamed source in the Ministry of Defence of Azerbaijan, cited by the news agency Trend, the servicemen were released because they were not involved in grave crimes against the Azerbaijani army or the country's population.
The return of the Armenian servicemen in Azerbaijani custody is a priority for Yerevan, which argues that the detainees should be freed as part of the all-for-all prisoner of war (POW) swap stipulated by the Russia-brokered ceasefire that ended the 44-day Karabakh war. Baku has maintained that it is not holding any more POWs, and the Armenians in detention are terrorists or saboteurs, not POWs, as they were captured after the ceasefire was called. Although the exact number of Armenians remaining in Azerbaijani detention is uncertain, the European Court of Human Rights reported Azerbaijan acknowledging the detention of 72 individuals.