Armenian soldier killed in Karabakh, Armenia launches investigation of murder on “racial grounds”

An Armenian soldier was shot dead on a frontline position near Karabakh on Tuesday. Military authorities in Yerevan said according to preliminary data the 19-year-old conscript, Vaghinak Baghdasaryan, was killed by Azeri fire.

A Defense Ministry statement also said that a criminal case had been instituted on a penal code article dealing with “murders on the grounds of ethnic, racial or religious hatred or fanaticism” and investigation is underway.

Armenia intensified its accusations against Azerbaijan of racist treatment of Armenians in the wake of the August 31 extradition and swift pardoning of army officer Ramil Safarov, a convicted axe-murderer of an Armenian, who was serving a life sentence in Hungary where he committed the crime. Further, Safarov was promoted in his military rank and provided with new housing and full salary for the eight and a half years that he spent in prison in Budapest.

President Serzh Sargsyan and other senior representatives of the Armenian leadership have repeatedly used the case as an example of the “fascist and racist regime” of President Ilham Aliyev illustrating why the Armenians of Karabakh cannot live under Azerbaijan’s rule and need a sovereign status.

The status of the former autonomous district of Soviet Azerbaijan was the main cause of the 1992-1994 Armenian-Azerbaijani war that ended in Karabakh Armenians’ establishing control over most of their native lands as well as some territories around the former autonomy.

Despite the Russia-brokered ceasefire in 1994, sporadic fighting along the heavily militarized line of contact around Karabakh has continued till our own days. Ceasefire violations, including reported infiltrations of commando groups and close engagements, have become more frequent in recent years, accounting for an increasing loss of life because of the conflict.

International mediators have increasingly expressed concern at such incidents and urged the parties to the Karabakh conflict to bolster the ceasefire regime with confidence-building measures. In particular, they want both sides to withdraw snipers from the frontlines and jointly investigate truce violations.

Yerevan and Stepanakert have backed the proposal, while Baku reportedly spoke against such measures, also rejecting the idea of joint investigations.

The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan are going to hold separate meetings with the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, the main international format brokering a solution to the protracted conflict, in New York where they are taking part in the UN General Assembly session this week.

Meanwhile, Azeri news agencies reported on Tuesday that six citizens of Georgia, three of whom are of Armenian ethnicity, were apprehended by Azeri frontier guards while they were trying to illegally cross the border into Azerbaijan. An Armenian news website, panorama.am, later reported quoting Ambassador to Georgia Hovhannes Manukyan that all the persons detained by Azeri border guards, including the Armenians, had been released and were already at home.

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