Armenia returns presumed remains of 138 Azerbaijanis missing in first Karabakh war
By Vugar Khalilov
Armenia has handed over the presumed remains of 138 Azerbaijanis, who went missing during the first Karabakh war (1988-1994), Azernews reports, citing Ismayil Axundov, Secretary of the State Commission on POWs, Missing Persons and Hostages.
Axundov made the remarks at a conference "Identification of Missing Persons - Humanitarian Approach" dedicated to the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30.
He underlined that under new circumstances that emerged after the win in the 44-day war, wide-ranging measures were taken to clarify the fate of the missing persons of the first Karabakh war.
From February 12, 2021, to April 25, 2022, Armenia handed over to Azerbaijan the mixed remains of 138 persons in 67 body bags found in the Azerbaijani regions currently controlled by the Russian peacekeeping contingent. The Azerbaijani Military Prosecutor's Office has launched 53 forensic molecular-genetic investigations into the case, Axundov elaborated.
Moreover, from February 17, 2021, to April 3, 2022, during the exhumation carried out in the mass graves found in the territory of Shusha District, Dashalti village, Khojavand District, Edilli village, Farrukh and Dashbasi villages of Khojaly District, as well as during the construction works in Agdam, Shusha, Goygol, Tartar, Fuzuli, and Zangilan districts, the remains of 82 people were identified and taken away. The Military Prosecutor's Office has launched 45 forensic molecular-genetic tests on the discovered remains.
Some 183 remains of unknown individuals, who died during the first Karabakh war, and were exhumed from 191 unknown graves in 21 cemeteries located in 13 cities and districts of the country (9 graves were found empty, and the remains of two people were found in 1 grave) and 184 forensic molecular-genetic analyses were appointed, Axundov said.
A total of 282 forensic molecular-genetic examinations have been assigned and the samples have been submitted to the laboratory of the Interior Ministry’s Criminalistics Research Department.
He added that a joint pilot project on the exhumation of human remains at six grave sites belonging to Azerbaijanis, who went missing in the first Karabakh war, is planned to be implemented together with the International Committee of the Red Cross Representation (ICRC) in Azerbaijan.
“As a result of Armenia's military aggression against Azerbaijan, 3,890 Azerbaijani citizens were registered as missing persons by the State Commission during the first Karabakh war. 3,171 of them were military personnel and 719 civilians. Among the civilians, 71 were minors, 267 were women, and 326 were elderly. Out of the total number of missing persons in the first Karabakh war, 872 people, including 29 children, 98 women, and 112 old people, were taken hostage or remained in the occupied territories. Later released prisoners and hostages confirmed that they saw those persons alive,” Akhundov underlined.
According to the list supplied by the appropriate state agencies at the end of the 44-day war with Armenia in 2020, around 300 Azerbaijani personnel were classified as missing. The bodies of the majority of the missing personnel were recovered from liberated areas, identified, and returned to their families.
"Unfortunately, despite the necessary measures related to the search of six of our servicemen who took part in the second Karabakh war, it wasn’t possible to establish their fates, and they were registered by the state commission as missing during the second Karabakh war. The fact that their fates are still unknown, is painful for each of us," Axundov stressed.
According to the ICRC, 776 people of Armenian origin were considered missing during the First Karabakh War, while 345 were during the second Karabakh war. As a result of the joint measures implemented after the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020, the corpses of 1,713 Armenian soldiers were found and handed over to Armenia.
During the first Karabakh war, 1,480 Azerbaijanis were released from captivity, and 509 were handed over to the other side. At the same time, the corpses of dozens of people from both sides, who were killed in the conflict zone and died in captivity were handed over to the parties through the mediation of the ICRC. In general, over 650 humanitarian acts were carried out with the participation of the ICRC.
After the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020, that ended the 44-day war, Armenia handed over 25 Azerbaijani citizens (19 soldiers, 6 civilians), five of whom (1 soldier, 4 civilians) were detained before September 27, 2020.
Azerbaijan released 159 people (118 soldiers, 41 civilians, including 5 women) of Armenian origin, 6 of whom (4 military and 2 civilians) were detained before September 27, 2020.
Adhering to its obligations under the norms of international humanitarian law, Azerbaijan interned captured Armenian servicemen and civilians evacuated from the war zone, providing them with decent treatment, food and water supply.
The State Commission regularly submitted information about captured Armenian servicemen and detained persons to the ICRC and created comprehensive conditions for the institution's employees to visit them. It was also ensured that captives and detained persons could write letters to their relatives, send video messages, as well as maintain telephone contact.
The ICRC was the main organization with which the State Commission cooperated during both the first and second Karabakh wars. One of the most important tasks in this field was the clarification of the list of missing persons in the first Karabakh war.
"According to the framework agreement ‘On the collection and centralized management of Ante Mortem information on missing persons’ signed between the ICRC Delegation in Azerbaijan and the State Commission in April 2008, since 2014 the collection of biological (DNA) samples from missing persons’ families started. During the past period, 10,309 biological samples were collected from the family members of 3,315 victims. Starting from November 2021, the work of extracting DNA profiles from the collected biological samples has been started. For this purpose, profiles have been extracted for each of the 1,024 biological samples so far,” Axundov detailed.
Currently, the primary factors preventing the determination of the fate of the missing individuals are Armenia's refusal to share information regarding their burial sites and the existence of mines in the liberated lands.
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