Maps for Detainees – Round 2
Field engineers of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry conduct a mine clearing operation in the Agdam District. The ministry has deployed a team of specialists of the Leader Center and the Noginsk Rescue Center to the district as part of a humanitarian mission. Twenty-six people work at the site and conduct training for employees of the Azerbaijani Emergency Situations Ministry. Russian Emergency Situations Ministry/TASS
On July 3, 2021, a group of 15 Armenian prisoners were sent home by Azerbaijan. Once again, ‘as a goodwill gesture,’ Armenia responded by releasing to Azerbaijan maps of some 92,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Or, perhaps it was the other way around - that the maps were handed over and the former detainees sent home as a humanitarian measure. Carefully worded diplomatic language avoids actually referring to these sensible, slow moves towards peace as “swaps” and brushes over earlier statements in which Armenia had often hinted that it never had access to landmine maps in the first place. In reality, this is the second of what appears to be a carefully choreographed series of map-detainee exchanges that began on June 12, 2021.
This time the minefield maps covered devices planted by Armenian forces in the then-occupied Fizuli and Zangilan districts of Azerbaijan. The men returning to Armenia appear to be some of the 62 detainees who Armenia claims to be POWs but whose actions in Hadrut after the Nov 10, 2020 ceasefire meant that they would not be considered standard combatants. A group of 14 had been under trial in Baku, but 12 of those were acquitted of terrorist charges and instead convicted of the comparatively minor charge of border violation. For this, they received six-month sentences, but – as they have already served more than that awaiting trial, the result was a face-saving way to allow for their immediate release and repatriation. Details of the extra three men making up the 15 sent back to Armenia remain unclear.
Since November 2020, more than 20 Azerbaijani civilians and service members have been killed and 85 wounded by mine explosions in the formerly occupied areas. But there’s little doubt that the maps submitted by Yerevan to Baku, thanks to Russian mediation, will save the lives of countless civilians and demining officers. It is highly likely that there will be further exchanges and agreements related to mine maps in the future. Maps for four of the seven de-occupied regions remain outstanding, while at present, another batch of Armenian detainees are going through their own Baku trials following a now-familiar format.
Hopefully, before long, all detainees and maps will have been exchanged, allowing another step in the long but crucial road to a fully workable peace.