Belgian Senator Meets with Karabakh POW Families, Calls Armenian-Azeri Dialogue

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A member of Belgium’s Senate spoke with relatives of Armenians who went missing during the Nagorno-Karabakh war in Yerevan on Tuesday, in what she described as an effort to promote Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue.

“I would like people in Armenia and Azerbaijan to speak to each other about peace,” Dominique Tilmans told journalists after a discussion with members of the Council on Missing Freedom Fighters (CMFF).

Tilmans made clear that she has no mandate to negotiate on or arrange the repatriation of prisoners of war and missing persons. But she said she plans to visit Baku next month together with the CMFF chairwoman, Rimma Arakelian. She said she would then take Arakelian and the head of a similar organization in Azerbaijan to the Geneva headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A group of relatives of missing Azerbaijani soldiers paid a landmark visit to Karabakh in 2003 in the hope of ascertaining their whereabouts and establishing contacts with similar families in Karabakh and Armenia proper. Whether or not they achieved any results remains unclear.

At least 20,000 people from both sides were killed and hundreds of thousands of others were displaced by the 1991-1994 war. The conflict has seen a relatively small number of prisoners of war (POW). At least a hundred of them have been exchanged and sent back home since 1994.

Hundreds of other Armenians and Azerbaijanis remain unaccounted for to this day. About 800 Azerbaijanis were listed as missing as of 2003. Azerbaijan’s government claimed that many of them are alive and are held by the Armenians, something which the latter strongly denied.

The Nagorno-Karabakh government, for its part, has maintained that about 680 citizens of Karabakh, both civilians and former soldiers, remain in Azerbaijani captivity.

The number of missing residents of Armenia is thought to be much smaller. More than two dozen of them were members of a defense unit that went missing during heavy fighting in northern Karabakh in summer 1992. Some of their parents participated in the meeting with the visiting Belgian senator.

Noemzar Ghazarian had for years hoped that her son Artak, who was 19 at the time, is still alive. “We have were told until recently that he is alive and will be swapped and brought back home,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

Ghazarian lost hope last year after the emergence of an Internet video that purportedly showed dead bodies of the missing squad’s members. “We now only hope to retrieve the bodies of the boys,” she said.

Samara Grigorian recognized her missing son Vrezh in that video. “But I still hope that a miracle might occur,” she said. “I want to believe in miracles.”

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