YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Holy See of Echmiatzin confirmed on Monday that Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, met President Serzh Sarkisian to discuss the return of the body of an Azerbaijani soldier killed in a June firefight in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The soldier, Mubariz Ibrahimov, died along with four Armenian servicemen in an Azerbaijani attack on a Karabakh army outpost in the disputed territory’s northern Martakert district. The incident heightened tension in that section of the “line of contact.” At least one Armenian and four Azerbaijani soldiers have been shot dead there over the past month.
In late July, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev bestowed the posthumous title of “national hero” on Ibrahimov and ordered his government to name a school and a street after him. Baku has since been trying to repatriate the dead soldier’s body. It says the Armenians are deliberately refusing to hand it back.
Late last month, Azerbaijan’s Shia Muslim leader, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, appealed to Karekin II, through Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, to assist in the repatriation. According to Karekin’s spokesman, Father Vahram Melikian, the Armenian Church leader raised the matter with President Sarkisian at a meeting last week.
“His Holiness presented the results of the discussion to the Russian Patriarch and, through him, to the Sheikh-ul-Islam, saying that the Armenian side has always been forthcoming and organized the handovers of prisoners of war and bodies of killed servicemen to the Azerbaijani side through the Red Cross international organization,” Melikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. He said Azerbaijan “has stopped acting in the same manner.”
“The Armenian side is ready to consider such appeals if Azerbaijan also demonstrates readiness for productive cooperation on the restoration of the consideration of such matters in accordance with the requirements of international humanitarian law,” he added without elaborating.
The Armenian Defense Ministry has until now referred all Azerbaijani inquiries about Ibrahimov’s body to Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian Defense Army. A ministry spokesman on Monday refused to comment on the Cathoicos’s meeting with Sarkisian.
A spokesman for Karabakh President Bako Sahakian, insisted that the Karabakh Armenians are not holding the body. “That individual died in neutral territory,” the official, Davit Babayan, told RFE/RL. “If the Azerbaijanis want to retrieve his corpse, they should go to that neutral territory and retrieve it.”
“Why should our troops go into no-man’s land and look for the Azerbaijani’s corpse and return it to them? It would be a little illogical,” he said.
Officials in Stepanakert and Yerevan have implicitly said until now that Ibrahimov was killed in Armenian-controlled territory. They portrayed that as proof that the June incident was provoked by Azerbaijani forces.
The authorities in Baku appear to have not yet asked the Armenians to hand back the body of an Azerbaijani army officer who was killed in northern Karabakh early this month. The Karabakh Armenian military says the 24-year-old Farid Ahmedov was a member of a commando unit that attacked its positions in the mountainous are. His body lying in a Karabakh Armenian trench was shown on Armenia’s state television.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said Ahmedov and another officer, Ahmed Abdullayev, were killed while repelling an Armenian “offensive.”
Meanwhile, the situation along the main Armenian-Azerbaijani frontline east and north of Karabakh remains tense, with each side accusing the other of violating the ceasefire on a virtually daily basis. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Eldar Sabiroglu told Agence France Presse that a 21-year-old Azerbaijani soldier was killed there in a skirmish with Armenian forces on Sunday.
The Defense Ministry in Yerevan insisted on Monday that its troops “strictly adhere to the ceasefire regime” and take “adequate actions” only in response to gunfire from Azerbaijani positions. It also pointed to Baku’s refusal to accept international mediators’ repeated calls for both sides to withdraw snipers from their frontline positions.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon echoed those calls in a statement issued after talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian over the weekend. Commenting on the statement, Sabiroglu said, “Linking the strengthening of the ceasefire regime with withdrawal of snipers is illogical.”
“The Armenians have repeatedly raised this issue at various levels,” Sabiroglu told the APA news agency. “This is yet another ploy. Snipers mostly operate on the Armenian side.”