By Rasana Gasimova
Spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova has said that the issue of exchange of prisoners between Azerbaijan and Armenia is constantly on the agenda of negotiations mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chaired by the U.S., Russia and France.
"The issue of exchange of prisoners is constantly on the agenda. In particular, the meeting of the Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian foreign ministers in Moscow in April 2019 was devoted to this topic. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group also took part in the meeting. During this meeting, the parties agreed to take joint measures to allow relatives to meet with the detainees in the territories of the parties,” Zakharova said in a press conference held on December 18.
“As you know, a citizen of Azerbaijan and a citizen of Armenia returned to their homeland through the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross in June 2019. We welcome this extremely important action and see it as the first step in improving the fate of those imprisoned. I can say that the work on other prisoners is underway. If an agreement is reached, we will certainly support it," Zakharova said.
Note that in 2014, two IDPs from Azerbaijan's occupied Kalbajar region - Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev - were detained by Armenian forces while visiting their native places and graves of loved ones in Kalbajar. A third Azerbaijani who was with them, Hasan Hasanov, was killed in the same operation. Asgarov and Guliyev were later persecuted by the courts in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh regime and sentenced to life imprisonment and to 22 years in jail respectively.
Azerbaijan’s State Committee on Affairs of Refugees and IDPs, the State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons and other agencies have repeatedly urged international organizations, including the ICRC, to assist in release of Guliyev and Asgarov.
In November 2018, Baku suggested the idea of exchanging prisoners according to the “all for all” scheme, proposing to exchange Armenian citizens Arsen Bagdasaryan, Karen Ghazaryan and Zaven Karapetyan for Russian citizen Dilgam Asgarov and Azerbaijani citizen Shahbaz Guliyev illegally convicted in occupied Karabakh.
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries arose in 1988 due to the territorial claims of Armenia against Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions - 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan – were occupied by Armenian Armed Forces in a subsequent war.
More than 20,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and over 1 million were displaced as a result of the large-scale hostilities.
The 1994 ceasefire agreement was followed by peace negotiations. Armenia has not yet implemented four UN Security Council resolutions on withdrawal of its armed forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding districts.
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