Armenia fails to respond to ICRC overtures on hostages

Press Release: Ali Hasanov, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Azerbaijani Republican Commission for International Humanitarian Assistance, received Elena Ajmone Sessera, Head, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Baku on 3 August. Dialogue focused on the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by the expulsion of an estimated 875,000 Azerbaijani internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees from their homeland due to the illegal occupation of an estimated 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory by the Armenian armed forces.

During the meeting, Mr Hasanov stressed the appreciation of his country for the humanitarian work undertaken by the ICRC in alleviating some of the distress caused by the occupation. He emphasised that Azerbaijan has fostered an environment that enables such international organisations as the ICRC to operate in a free and transparent manner. Mrs Sessera replied that 2016 had been particularly challenging during and in the aftermath of the ‘Four-Day War’ that saw artillery used around the ‘contact line’ between Azerbaijan and the Armenian-occupied territories.

Both parties then focused on the plight of Dilham Asgarov (aged 56) and Shahbaz Guliyev (aged 48 years). These two Azerbaijanis were taken prisoner by Armenian forces in June 2014 when visiting their relatives’ graves in the occupied Kelbajar region, near Nagorno-Karabakh. A third man – Hasan Hasanov (aged 38) – was shot dead. In December 2014, an unrecognised court sentenced Dilham to life imprisonment and Shahbaz to 22 years in jail.

Mr Hasanov recalled that, during a meeting in Geneva with Peter Maurer, President, ICRC, he had requested ICRC humanitarian assistance in helping the hostages maintain contact with their families via web-based communication. He requested the assistance of Mrs Sessera in placing pressure on the Armenian occupying regime to facilitate this.

Lionel Zetter, Director, The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) commented: “It is very disappointing that the ICRC has been unable to secure the release of these two men, nor even facilitate ongoing communication with their families.

“It is quite obvious that they are civilians, and that they were engaged in no more sinister actions than tending the graves of their relatives. Their continued detention is a black mark against the Armenian government, and a sign of how desperate they are to secure any kind of leverage.”