The flight arriving from Baku to Yerevan on April 8 was expected to be laden with hope for the families of Armenian prisoners of war who are still held captive in Azerbaijan. But those families had to face a huge disappointment as no prisoners disembarked from the plane. Indeed, the only person aboard the flight was Lt. Gen. Ruslan Muradov, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
Exasperated families vented their anger by protesting outside the Ministry of Defense, as well as on the road connecting Yerevan to Gyumri, since the majority of those held hail from Gyumri and the rest of the Shirak region.
Why did this heartbreaking drama take place? On April 7, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan paid his much-anticipated visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The talks lasted more than four hours, but the most pressing issue was the fate of the Armenian prisoners still being kept in Azerbaijan in order to inflict maximal trauma to the families of the latter after the 44-day Karabakh war.
The guarded hope coming out of the Pashinyan-Putin meeting was that the Russian president would work hard to resolve the issue of the prisoners. Offering even more hope was the news about Putin’s phone conversation with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. To complete the circle of expectations, Gen. Ruslan Muradov flew to Baku with the obvious mission of bringing back the prisoners to Yerevan.
Although the news about the imminent release of the captives came from Moscow, officials in Yerevan also confirmed it, heightening expectations. But one piece of news which was not covered in the media concerned the visit of Abdullah Bozkurt, speaker of the Turkish Parliament, to Baku, for talks with President Aliyev. The speculation is that the visit led to the aborting of the plans to release those prisoners.
The frustrated families back in Yerevan were told by Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan that the arrival of the prisoners was delayed while General Muradov chided the Armenian government for feeding false hopes to the families, suggesting that his visit to Baku was not connected with the POW issue. That was certainly a face-saving announcement for the Russian side, which had trumpeted that President Putin had exerted tremendous efforts to solve the POW issue.