Azerbaijan hands over 77-year-old "commando" to Armenia (updated)

Azerbaijan hands over 77-year-old

PanARMENIAN.Net - A 77-year-old captive Mamikon Khojoyan who had been interned in Baku, Azerbaijan, returned to Armenia today (March 4) under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The man was placed in the care of Armenian officials on the road between the Azerbaijani town of Gazakh and the Armenian town of Ijevan, at the international border. ICRC delegates had visited the man prior to his repatriation in order to assess the conditions in which he was being held and the treatment he received, ICRC Armenia reported.

Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan earlier confirmed reports of Azerbaijan' transfer of Khojoyan over to Armenian side. As he noted, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Yerevan office were headed for the transfer site.

“Armenian citizen Khojayan Mamikon, who was detained while crossing the contact line of troops on January 28, is expected to be handed over to his country today,” Secretary of the State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons Shahin Sayilov earlier told APA.

Azerbaijan’s capture of an elderly Armenian, dubbed a member of an “Armenian commando group” came as another one in a series of increased tensions at the frontline.

As Azeri media claimed earlier, “a 65 year-old member of an Armenian commando group, injured in a diversion attempt, was detained at the contact line near the village of Alibeili, Tovuz region.”

Novosti-Armenia said the Defense Ministry refuted Azeri claims, noting that no soldier at the military units stationed near the region indicated was absent from service.

According to Panorama.am, the head of Verin Karmraghbyur village reported local resident Mamikon Khojoyan missing, with a search initiated.

As the Armenian Police spokesperson Armen Malkhasyan noted, the 77-year-old, who suffered from a mental disorder, lived alone and was under medical observation.

The villagers last saw Khojoyan near the settlement of Maflar. Their description of the captive matched the photo of a man posted on Azeri websites.

Baku describes the elderly Armenian as a subversive agent, which does not mean it's true, Azeri analyst Zardusht Alizadeh said, citing previous cases where Armenian captives were accused of espionage with no proof at hand.

Uzeir Jafarov, an Azerbaijani military analyst, also dismissed the official Azerbaijani version of Khojoyan’s capture. “That man has nothing to do with the sabotage group,” he told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service. “He is an old man who seems to have health problems. There is not a single sign that the Defense Ministry’s claims are true.”

“The Defense Ministry had better explain why Khojoyan was caught by ordinary [Azerbaijani] villagers,” said Jafarov. “What were the Azerbaijani soldiers stationed in that area doing?”

Azeri Ministry of Defense stood by its claims that Khojoyan is a saboteur. However, later, Baku slightly changed its version of the events. The elderly man was described as a part of the commando group - a guide well familiar with the area – captured in a botched diversion attempt.

The head of the village of Alibeili, however, refuted the report, noting that Khojoyan was spotted by one of the villagers and further detained by Azeri soldiers who took him to Baku.

Azeris remain true to their traditional scenario of capturing an Armenian, a soldier or not, coming up with a suitable legend, and interviewing him to “prove” the legend. Nothing’s different this time. ANS TV channel, greedy for such conversations, interviewed a 77-year-old Armenian hostage.

Khojoyan was shown sitting on a hospital bed, with his right arm in a cast. “I broke my arm but am fine now,” he was quoted as saying. “My arm is now healing. They are taking good care of me.” According to Azeri media, Khojoyan gave ambiguous information, sometimes presenting himself as a special service agent, and sometimes a wine-grower. Journalists seemed to make no allowances for the mentally challenged elderly man. Also, previous footage shows Khojoyan with an unbroken arm at the time of his capture. It was beyond doubt that the Azeri side forced the elderly man into giving the “necessary statement.”

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