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ConflictsArmenia

Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to exchange prisoners of war

December 7, 2023

The two countries said they will continue to take "confidence-building measures" in what appears to be a key step towards a peace accord. A joint statement pledged the mutual release of prisoners of war.

https://p.dw.com/p/4ZtvG
Three men in suits — Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, EU Council President Charles Michel, and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (l to r) — pose for a photo in Brussels in May 2023
Armenia's Prime Minister Pashinyan Aliyev, left, with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, right, and President of the European Council Charles Michel, middle, at a meeting in Brussels in MayImage: Dursun Aydemir/AA/picture alliance

Armenia and Azerbaijan pledged to exchange prisoners of war and expressed their "intention to normalize ties and sign a peace agreement," in a joint statement released Thursday. 

Baku will free 32 imprisoned Armenians while Yerevan will release two Azerbaijani servicemen following separate mediations by the European Union, United States and Russia.

Armenia's Foreign Ministry said Yerevan had "responded positively to the offer of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to organize the meeting of the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington."

President of the European Council Charles Michel described the development as a "major breakthrough." In a social media post, he wrote: "Welcome in particular release of detainees and unprecedented opening in political dialogue."

Both countries hinted at signing a peace agreement as early as this month as they take "tangible steps aimed at confidence building” and Armenia even backed Azerbaijan's bid to host next year's COP29 UN climate conference.

The agreements were reached during talks between the office of Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the administration of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, with further "confidence-building measures” planned with the "intention of normalizing ties and signing a peace agreement."

Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh adjust to life in Armenia

Decadeslong conflict

The neighboring countries have been locked in a decadeslong conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which had freed itself from Baku's control in a bloody ethnic conflict that accompanied the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, surviving with financial,

military and diplomatic support from Yerevan.

Azerbaijan reclaimed the region after a lightning offensive against Armenian separatists when Aliyev sent troops to Karabakh on September 19.

Following a day of fighting, Armenian separatist forces that had controlled the disputed region for three decades laid down their weapons and agreed to reintegrate with Baku.

Azerbaijan's victory marked the end of the territorial dispute, which saw Azerbaijan and Armenia fight two wars — in 2020 and the 1990s — that have claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides.

mds/sms (AFP, Reuters)