Three Armenian servicemen, part of a larger group being held in Azerbaijani custody, were released on Tuesday evening and flown to Yerevan on a Russian military plane. The soldiers – named as Robert Vardanyan, Samvel Shukhyan and Seyran Tamrazyan – are reported as being three of those detained in territory under Azerbaijani control after the 10 November ceasefire.
Azerbaijani media sources said that they were escorted from Baku to Yerevan by the commander of the Russian military contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, Rustam Muradov.
The decision to release the three men was “in accordance with the humanism policy of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev”, Azerbaijani media reported.
The arrival of the three men in Yerevan was later confirmed by Armenian media.
The semi-official Armenpress news agency reported the arrival of the men in Yerevan, citing sources in the office of Armenian deputy prime minister, Tigran Avinyan:
"As a result of the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries, Azerbaijan has returned three Armenian prisoners of war amid growing international pressure. We hope that this process will have its logical continuation and completion as soon as possible"
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 on 16 March 2021. Sources in Azerbaijan said after the release of the three prisoners that it had been ascertained that they had not participated in any terrorist activity, which is why they were released.