The Armenian Church in the UK has called upon Azerbaijan to release Armenian prisoners of war (PoWs) who remain captive following the autumn 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Church issued a statement signed by Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church in the UK and Ireland, condemning the continued imprisonment of PoWs.
The statement argues that Azerbaijan has failed to comply with the trilateral peace agreement, signed on 9 November 2020 by Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, which stipulated that both sides must “exchange prisoners of war, hostages and other detained persons”.
An estimated 200 Armenians – both military and civilian prisoners – are still held by Azerbaijan. Armenia, by contrast, has released all Azerbaijani PoWs following the conflict.
The European Court of Human Rights has referred the situation to the European Council of Ministers after Azerbaijan failed to meet a deadline set by the court to submit information about the remaining prisoners.
The Church statement also notes the “ongoing psychological trauma of families waiting for their relatives to be returned”, especially those who “have received confirmation of torture or killing of their relatives directly to their phones or via social media”.
The statement adds that, “in the most recent blow”, on 9 April “families of Armenian prisoners of war waited hopefully at the Yerevan airport, only to be greeted by an empty plane sent by Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov has responded to international criticism of Azerbaijan’s actions by claiming without any evidence that Armenians who remain captive are “terrorists” and not prisoners of war, and that therefore that they should not be released.
Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, began the invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave within the Muslim-majority Republic of Azerbaijan, at the end of September 2020. The conflict ended in November with Azerbaijan having taken significant territories which had formerly been held by the Armenian community.
Nagorno-Karabakh (mountainous Karabakh) is part of the historic homeland of the Armenian people, who around 301 AD became the first Christian nation, and the region still contains many ancient churches and monasteries. Karabakh was placed within Azerbaijan by the USSR in 1923.
Barnabas Fund, barnabasfund.org