YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Authorities in Armenian insisted on Wednesday that an Armenian man reportedly detained in Azerbaijan over the weekend is a civilian and not a serviceman, as is claimed by Baku.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Monday that it captured one of the members of an Armenian “reconnaissance group” which it said illegally crossed into western Azerbaijan on Saturday. It said the group was tasked by Armenian security services with carrying out armed “provocations.” The captured man was identified as Manvel Saribekian.
Military officials in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh were quick to dismiss the claims as “disinformation.” The Armenian Defense Ministry accused the Azerbaijani side on Tuesday of “continuing to destabilize the situation in the region with false reports.”
A ministry spokesman, Mushegh Aghekian, on Thursday confirmed the captive’s identity and said he is a resident of Tutujur, a village in northeastern Armenia close to the Azerbaijani border. Aghekian said Saribekian accidentally strayed into Azerbaijani territory while grazing cattle in the area.
“According to information received from the police, he left his house on September 11 for a mountainous location close to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and never returned home,” the official told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The civilian’s relatives appealed to law-enforcement bodies and the Armenian office of the Red Cross for assistance.”
Instances of Armenian and Azerbaijani civilians crossing the heavily militarized border between their countries, apparently after losing their way, are not uncommon. In April, for example, Armenia repatriated an Azerbaijani man who was detained in its northern Tavush region last December. It remained unclear whether the 46-year-old Eldar Tagiyev the crossed the Armenian frontier intentionally or by accident.
The latest incident occurred just over a week after at least four Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in skirmishes with Armenian forces in northern Karabakh. It was the most serious ceasefire violation on the main Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” in months. Each warring side blamed the other for the deadly fighting strongly condemned by international mediators.