Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on 12 June, that it had released 15 Armenian citizens it had previously detained, in exchange for Armenian maps of the location of 97,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel land mines in Azerbaijan’s Agdam region.
The exchange was facilitated by the Georgian government, with the exchange carried out on the Azerbaijan-Georgian border in the presence of Georgian government representatives. In the press statement announcing the exchange, the Ministry expressed its thanks for the support of Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and his government in implementing the “humanitarian action”. Also thanked for their role in mediation was US Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Philip Reeker, Acting Assistant Secretary of the US State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; Charles Michel, President of the European Council; and the Swedish chairmanship of the OSCE.
“Mine maps” have been a sticking point for Azerbaijani-Armenian negotiations following the end of fighting, with Azerbaijani forces having previously captured alleged Armenian soldiers for continuing to mine areas in Karabakh despite the ceasefire. Baku did not state whether the citizens exchanged were soldiers captured during the war, holdouts captured in postwar sweeping operations, or detained on such grounds. The 4 June deaths of two Azerbaijani journalists, Siraj Abishov and Maharram Ibrahimov, alongside the deputy representative of Susuzluk village, Arif Aliyev, after their vehicle struck a mine in the Kalbajar region neighboring Agdam, has further highlighted the urgency of resolving the issue.
While the exchange is a promising sign, it is merely the first such exchange that needs to be made for demining efforts to be carried out at full speed and hopefully minimize civilian suffering. Acting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said as much on the campaign trail, saying in a livestreamed speech in the central Armenian town of Yeghvard that the maps exchanged were a “tiny part” of Armenian mine maps. He said that the Armenian government was open to further negotiations, however, with election day now just over a week away, it remains to be seen whether Armenia’s next government will wish to maintain the momentum from Saturday’s exchange.