YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia has unexpectedly deported an Azerbaijani prisoner of war to an unpublicized third country just two weeks after offering to swap him for an Armenian soldier who was captured by Azerbaijani troops near Nagorno-Karabakh.
Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan made the announcement on Friday at a meeting with Lorenzo Caraffi, the Yerevan-based representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
A statement by the Armenian Defense Ministry said Tonoyan asked the ICRC to inform the family of Firuz Farajev that he has been transferred to a “safe, prosperous and democratic country” and already granted a refugee status there. He did not name that country.
Farajev was detained by Armenian troops at a western section of Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan in July 2012. The Armenian military said at the time that the 20-year-old deliberately surrendered to its forces.
The Defense Ministry statement issued on Friday said that Farajev defected because of having been subjected to “inhumane tortures and pressures” at his Azerbaijani army unit. It insisted that the soldier made an “unequivocal decision” not to return to Azerbaijan.
The announcement came two weeks after Tonoyan told another Red Cross official in Yerevan that Farajev has “changed his mind and expressed a desire to return to Azerbaijan.” The Armenian military thus expressed readiness to swap him for Hakob Injighulian, an Armenian soldier who crossed into Azerbaijani-controlled territory east of Karabakh on August 8.
The Azerbaijani side never responded to that offer. Instead, Injighulian was again paraded on Azerbaijani television last week, saying that he surrendered to Azerbaijani forces after being ill-treated by one of his commanders. He said he therefore wants to be sent to a third country.
The authorities in Yerevan as well as Injighulian’s family dismissed that statement, saying that the 22-year-old was presented a false version of events under duress. They insist that he crossed the “line of contact” around Karabakh by accident.
Armenian officials argue that international conventions on treatment of POWs forbid any public exposure of captured enemy soldiers. They say the fact that Injighulian wore an Azerbaijani military uniform in his two televised appearances was another gross violation of international law.
Red Cross officials in Baku were allowed to visit Injighulian on August 20.