Armenian military officials announced early Thursday morning that six Armenian soldiers were captured by Azeri forces in the Armenian province of Gegharkunik.
Armenia’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that the contract servicemen were carrying out engineering work in the border region when they were surrounded and taken hostage by Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces. “Necessary measures are being taken to return the captured servicemen,” concluded the brief statement.
During a government session, acting PM Nikol Pashinyan elaborated on the early morning developments, noting that the Armenian servicemen were installing landmines. Pashinyan underscored that warning signs were placed in the area and that these measures were being carried out to strengthen the borders, not for “subversive” purposes. Armenia’s MoD, in an effort to refute its Azeri counterpart’s claims that two dozen Armenian units crossed the border to conduct reconnaissance and mine Azeri territory and supply routes, published a map depicting the location of the capture—800 meters from the border inside the Republic of Armenia.
During a press briefing, Deputy Chief of the General Staff Major General Eduard Asryan explained that the six soldiers were captured while setting up a new border post to prevent Azerbaijani forces from advancing deeper into Armenian territory. In response to why the Armenian soldiers did not fire at the approaching Azerbaijani troops, Asryan responded that the military-political leadership is still trying to resolve the situation peacefully through negotiations. Asryan said that the Armenian side is prepared to retreat from the new border position according to Azerbaijani demands, under the condition that Azerbaijan returns the captured servicemen.
Hundreds of Azeri forces have been illegally occupying the Armenian provinces of Syunik and Gegharkunik since their invasion on May 12. This week, one serviceman was killed during a shootout triggered by Azeri forces in the village of Verin Shorzha in Gegharkunik. “We strongly condemn the use of force by the Azerbaijani side against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Armenia and emphasize that the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan bears the responsibility for all the actions of the Azerbaijani armed forces and its consequences,” read a statement by Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), demanding the urgent release of the newly captured servicemen.
Acting PM Pashinyan, who has been approaching a resolution to this invasion through diplomatic means, called for unity and resolve during his visit to the village of Kut in the occupied province of Gegharkunik on Thursday afternoon. “We are filled with emotional love for our motherland, but we must not take emotional steps,” he urged residents, “We must clearly analyze and understand what is happening. And let’s go step by step to solve these problems.” Moments later, he was briefed by Major General Arayik Harutyunyan as he observed Azeri positions on the hills overlooking the Armenian village. Early Thursday morning, Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan said his office received and confirmed a report of shots fired in the vicinity of Kut, leading to increasing tension in the community. “Today’s actions by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces…seriously endanger the life and health of Gegharkunik’s residents, their physical security and mental health,” wrote Tatoyan. “International organizations must take into account the real connection between these factors and re-evaluate who is really disturbing the peace and tranquility in the region and what are the real causes of human rights violations and atrocities,” he concluded.
Back in Yerevan in a meeting with members of Armenia’s Security Council, Pashinyan presented his proposal to deploy international observers along the border from Russia or the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries including France and the United States, following the simultaneous return of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers to their original positions. The international observers would then oversee the adjustment of border checkpoints in the Sotk-Khoznavar region. “If the situation is not resolved, this provocation will inevitably turn into a large-scale clash,” stressed Pashinyan. “If Azerbaijan truly has a problem with the clarification of border points, then it should have no reason to reject this plan.” Pashinyan directed his proposal to Azerbaijan, Russia and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries.
The Russian side “reaffirmed its appeal to [Armenia and Azerbaijan] to resolve all emerging problems by peaceful means during negotiations,” the Russian Foreign Ministry wrote in a statement. The French Foreign Ministry urged the parties to “exercise the utmost restraint and refrain from any provocation,” recalling President Emmanuel Macron’s May 13 declaration demanding the immediate withdrawal of Azerbaijani soldiers from Armenian territory. In a statement calling on Azerbaijan to “release immediately all prisoners of war and other detainees,” the US State Department condemned the “use of force to demarcate the [international] border” and called on both sides to relocate to the positions they held on May 11. “We are gratified to see that sustained community, coalition and Congressional pressure has finally secured from our State Department an accurate reference and direct demand for the release of the hundreds of Armenian prisoners of war illegally held by Azerbaijan,” said ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian. “This small step needs to be followed by decisive action – enforcing Section 907 and immediately stopping any and all U.S. arms or aid to the oil-rich Aliyev regime.”
Following news of Pashinyan’s proposal to deploy international observers along the border, MFA spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan announced on Facebook the resignation of acting Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan. Pashinyan had appointed Ayvazyan just over a week after signing the trilateral ceasefire agreement that ended the 2020 Artsakh War.
In light of Thursday’s developments, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Supreme Council of Armenia released a statement calling once again for the resignation of acting PM Pashinyan. “The events of the recent days prove once again that there is no authority in the Republic of Armenia, and every passing day is a threat to the existence of the state,” read the statement. The ARF also issued a call to the international community and Armenia’s allies to condemn and take action to end Azerbaijan’s war crimes.
Editor’s Note, May 27, 3:51 PM ET: This article was modified from its original version to include a newly published statement issued by the US State Department and delete the reference to the US Embassy in Yerevan. A comment by the ANCA was also included.