Caspian Region

The Return of More Armenian Detainees and Azerbaijani MIA Remains. Small Steps Towards Peace?

The Caspian Post
There are thousands of people who went missing during the First Karabakh War who have never been found or accounted for. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Seen from Yerevan, a key imperative for more lasting peace with Azerbaijan is that Baku return around three dozen Armenian detainees thought to be held.


From Baku’s point of view, at least some of these detainees are classified as criminals rather than prisoners of war since they entered Azerbaijani territory after the end of hostilities in November 2020, making it somewhat harder to save face in sending them home. Amongst Azerbaijanis, there is also the lingering resentment that well over 3000[1] of their compatriots never returned after the First Karabakh War of the early 1990s. There have been numerous calls on Yerevan to reveal the fate of such MIAs. Yerevan doesn’t admit the figure, though it counters that over 700 Armenians are likewise missing from the 1990s conflict.


Last week, small but tangible advances in resolving these issues were made, aiding the cautious dance of creating lasting peace. On February 7, 2021, Azerbaijan returned another eight detained Armenian servicemen, who arrived to a rather heavy interrogation by Armenian authorities. A day later, Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, countered that the remains of two missing Azerbaijanis would soon be handed over to Baku, adding to 108 others whose bodies had been returned over ‘recent years.’


Diplomatic niceties being what they are, both sides downplay any suggestion of some kind of macabre body bargaining process. Of course, in reality, it appears that this is another sensible ‘swap’ in the spirit of detainees for landmine map deals in 2021 (those were not officially swaps, either).


In the Social Media era, such necessary compromises are ever more challenging as the Twittersphere quickly deflects such progress. Even relatively progressive voices all too easily react by using any revelations to screech about past injustices rather than accepting that painful truths have to be faced. Some wondered why the 108 bodies sent, up till now, had been released so secretively, even that the revelation required war crimes to be investigated.


Others wondered what kind of horrific store of body parts remained hidden, perhaps in some mass grave or in gruesome hospital chambers away from prying eyes. The latter theory chimes with different if parallel stories that surfaced in 2021 in which it appeared that a Yerevan hospital had been storing the supposedly “lost” bodies of around 200 Armenian servicemen who had died in the 2020 war.   


All such questions are not unjustified in their asking. However, there’s a danger in shouting too hard. These small but tangible steps should be applauded for what they are. Peace-building is a messy business, difficult compromises are required, and unpleasant realities will have to be faced.



[1] Back in 2006, ICRC statistics suggested 3247 compared to an Azerbaijani official MIA figure of 4604 of which as many as 783 were thought then to be possibly still alive at that time.