STEPANAKERT—Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh insist they have “serious grounds” to assume that an Armenian teenager who was found dead on Tuesday, after a long search, had been killed by Azerbaijani “saboteurs,” RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) reports.
Smbat Tsakanian, 17, had been missing since July 4. His body was found in a forest in Karvachar (Kelbajar), an Armenian-controlled district sandwiched between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, on July 15.
The resident of the village of Nor Erkej in the Armenia-controlled area went missing a few days before Karabakh’s authorities reported an attempt by a group of alleged Azerbaijani commandos to infiltrate into Karvachar. Tsakanian’s relatives also said they believed their son had been kidnapped and killed by Azerbaijani commandos.
On Monday, the Karabakh forces reported total “neutralization” of the Azerbaijani “saboteurs” who, they said, had killed at least one Armenian officer and wounded a civilian. Two arrested citizens of Azerbaijan said to be members of the group were later charged with crimes committed in Nagorno-Karabakh’s territory. Officials in Stepanakert and Yerevan said they would not be given prisoner-of-war status since they are not members of the Azerbaijani military and acted against the “laws and customs” of war.
The Prosecutor’s Office in Stepanakert confirmed on Wednesday that Tsakanian died from gunshot wounds, but stopped short yet of presuming him to be a victim of Azerbaijani commandos.
It is not clear yet whether investigators will also charge the two arrested citizens of Azerbaijan, identified as 46-year-old Shahbaz Quliyev and 56-year-old Dilham Askerov, with Tsakanian’s murder. So far, the two men have been charged with illegally crossing the border for the purpose of engaging in sabotage activities. The Nagorno-Karabakh Prosecutor’s Office said both were armed with automatic rifles, pistols with silencers, as well as hand grenades presumably for conducting reconnaissance and sabotage activities in Armenian areas.
Nor Erkej village mayor Ara Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that the location of the killed teenager’s body was prompted to Nagorno-Karabakh’s law-enforcement agencies by the two arrested Azerbaijanis. Before that a large-scale search for Tsakanian that lasted for days could not produce any result. The body was reportedly transferred to Stepanakert for a forensic examination.
Meanwhile, David Babayan, a spokesperson for Nagorno-Karabakh’s president, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that there are “serious grounds” to assume that the Armenian teenager was killed by Azerbaijanis. “What should we expect from beasts like them? That was something that a human being would not do,” Babayan said emotionally. The official neither confirmed nor denied that Tsakanian was killed in a particularly brutal way. He, however, said that all details would become available as investigation into the case progresses.
Meanwhile, Tsakanian was buried near his native village today. Nor Erkej mayor Hovannisian said from now on villagers should be more vigilant and should immediately inform the authorities about any strangers they spot in their community.
“We did not see that coming. We used to feel more relaxed before, but now we should be more vigilant,” the local leader said.
Baku Switches Rhetoric
Azerbaijani authorities on Wednesday changed their response to the Armenian government’s allegations, shifting from denying that any such “saboteurs” had entered Armenian territory to now claiming that any such act is completely legal as Azerbaijani citizens “have a right to move about in their own country,” as reported by the AzerNews news agency.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized on Wednesday that despite the Armenian side’s claims, the Azerbaijani citizens who crossed the border did not violate any laws because “lands under the control of the occupational regime are the territories of Azerbaijan.”
The ministry then went on to threaten an “international trial” against Armenia’s Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian for his “acts of violence” against Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani ministry also said that the Azerbaijani armed forces can perform any mission and conduct any operation without the involvement of its civilians.