Another Maps-for-Detainees Deal Sees 10 Captured Armenians Return Home from Azerbaijan
A demonstration of Armenian-made antipersonnel mines in Fizuli District handed over to Azerbaijan following the 2020 armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Karabakh. September 26, 2021. Valery Sharifulin/TASS
In what appears to herald the re-start of moves towards a more permanent peace in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan released ten Armenian detainees on December 4. In return, Armenia has reportedly provided further maps of minefields laid in the Azerbaijani territories they had previously occupied before the war of 2020.
Though two previous maps-for-detainees deals had been done, this week’s move appears to be the first fruit of ground-breaking talks held in Sochi on November 26 between the Armenian and Azerbaijani heads of state. That meeting resulted in a mutual reiteration of the commitment to the 9-10 November 2020 agreement, the document whose signing ended the 2nd Karabakh War.
From the Armenian perspective, one key short-term aim of improving relationships with Azerbaijan is the return of all its captured soldiers. This has been a sticking point as Baku considers that any soldier found on Azerbaijani soil after the end of hostilities on November 10, 2020, cannot be classified as a prisoner of war. After all, the war was already over when they crossed the border.
The soldiers returned in the December 4 deal fall between these two categories. These individuals were taken prisoner in disputed territory during a border flare-up on November 16, 2021, the bloodiest skirmish since the 2020 war, with around half a dozen killed on either side.
As yet, it is unclear which areas of minefield are covered by the released maps. However, the issue of demining remains a pressing one. In less than 13 months since the end of the Second Karabakh War, mines have killed 33 Azerbaijanis and injured a further 134.