Two ethnic Azerbaijanis who were detained by Armenia's forces in the previously occupied Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan returned to Azerbaijan on Monday after serving six years in prison.
Azerbaijan's State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Persons announced the release of Dilgam Ahmadov and Shahbaz Guliyev as part of the agreement with Armenia on the exchange of prisoners and hostages.
"As a result of negotiations with the participation of international organizations and Russian peacekeeping forces, an agreement was reached with the Armenian side on the exchange of prisoners of war and hostages on the principle of “all for all” and the mutual return of prisoners of war and hostages began on December 14, 2020," the Commission said in a statement issued on Monday.
"Azerbaijani captives and hostages, including Shahbaz Guliyev and Dilgam Asgarov, who had been held hostage by the Armenians since July 2014, were brought to Baku by plane," the statement reads, adding the two men will reunite with their families after undergoing necessary quarantine measures.
Along with Guliyev and Asgarov, ten more Azerbaijani prisoners and hostages have also been released.
Ethnic Azerbaijanis – Shahbaz Guliyev and Dilgam Asgarov, who holds a Russian passport, and Hasan Hasanov – visited the graves of their relatives in the Shaplar village of the occupied Kalbajar region of Azerbaijan in the summer of 2014. A visit to the homeland ended up in their capture by the Armenian armed forces. Hasanov was shot dead on the scene, while Guliyev and Asgarov were taken into custody in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Hasanov’s body was returned to the Azerbaijani side and buried in Baku in 2014.
After a two-month bogus trial in the Khankendi city in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh (Daghlig Garabagh) region of Azerbaijan in December 2014, Asgarov was sentenced to life imprisonment and Guliyev was put behind the bars for 22 years. Bogus charges of “espionage acts" were made against the men.
The Azerbaijani government refused to acknowledge the outcomes of dummy court proceedings by the illegal separatist regime and blamed Armenia for ignoring its commitments to international humanitarian law, such as the Geneva Conventions and calls of the international community on releasing Asgarov and Guliyev. The country's foreign ministry later announced that the counterfeit trial had no legal basis and its alleged consequence could not be of any legal nature.
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits the taking of hostages during international and non-international armed conflicts. It is also prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and is considered a grave breach of the principles articulated in Article 3.
The committee for protecting the rights of Asgarov and Guliyev in Azerbaijan revealed in 2016 that both hostages endured periodical tortures by the employees of the prison they were kept, while the illegal separatist regime in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region deprived them of fundamental human rights and medical care.
In April 2015, Guliyev underwent gallbladder surgery in occupied Khankendi city. Due to post-surgery pains, he was transferred to a clinic in Armenia’s capital Yerevan. In a letter to his family in 2017, Guliyev wrote that his condition was deteriorating day by day due to the poor medical care he was receiving.
The International Human Rights Defense Committee (IHRDC), a non-profit association of independent lawyers in Europe, said in its report issued in March 2018 that the situation of Azerbaijani hostages Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev in Armenia was unbearable as they endured continuous moral and physical tortures. In letters to their families, both hostages constantly complained about serious health issues as a result of the irresponsible attitude of the Armenian government to the grave condition of the prisoners.
In September 2019, the Azerbaijani side offered an exchange of Asgarov and Guliyev with Karen Kazaryan, an Armenian saboteur detained in Azerbaijan's Aghdam district in July 2018, and Araik Kazaryan, who voluntarily surrendered to the Azerbaijani forces in the district of Fuzuli in August 2019. However, the Armenian side refused to release the illegally detained ethnic Azerbaijani hostages.
During the 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Guliyev and Shahbazov were reportedly transferred from the prison in the city of Shusha in the Nagorno-Karabakh region to Armenia on October 4. Asgarov's son said the hostages were first taken to the Gorus town in southern Armenia sometime in November and then were relocated to the Artik prison in the northwestern Shirak province on November 13.
On November 8, Azerbaijani forces liberated the city of Shusha, where Guliyev and Asgarov were kept after the bogus trial. The six-week-long war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that erupted on September 27 came to an end in a ceasefire statement signed by these two countries and Russia on November 9. Before the ceasefire, the Azerbaijani army liberated over 300 settlements, including five cities from Armenia's occupation. The agreement reaffirmed Azerbaijan's territorial regains and obliged Armenia to return the occupied parts of the Aghdam district, as well as the occupied Kalbajar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan by December 1. The eighth article of the nine-article statement addressed the exchange of prisoners of war and other detainees, as well as the bodies of the dead between Armenia and Azerbaijan.