Armenia and Azerbaijan exchange POWs in line with agreement announced last week

Dec 13 2023

Armenia and Azerbaijan on Wednesday exchanged prisoners of war, in line with an agreement announced last week that also promised the two countries would work towards a peace treaty and was hailed by the European Union as a major step toward peace in the tumultuous region.

Azerbaijan brought back two servicemen, while 32 soldiers returned to Armenia, officials in both countries reported.

Azerbaijan waged a lightning military campaign in September in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The offensive ended three decades of rule there by ethnic Armenians and resulted in the vast majority of the 120,000 residents fleeing the region, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

In their joint statement last week, the two countries said they "share the view that there is a historical chance to achieve a long-awaited peace." They said they intend "to normalize relations and to reach the peace treaty on the basis of respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity."

They also promised to continue discussions "regarding the implementation of more confidence building measures" and called on the international community for support "that will contribute to building mutual trust between two countries."

The joint statement came after the two countries spent months bitterly arguing on the outline of a peace process amid mutual distrust.

As part of the deal, Armenia also agreed to lift its objections to Azerbaijan hosting next year's international conference on climate change.

European Council President Charles Michel praised the agreement as a major breakthrough, saying on X that he particularly welcomes the deal to release detainees and make an "unprecedented opening in political dialogue."

Michel called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to finalize a peace deal as soon as possible.