Azerbaijan freed 17 Armenian prisoners of war on Tuesday after US mediation, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said, days after nemesis neighbors resumed Western-brokered peace talks.
The move underscores growing Western involvement in the volatile Caucasus region, where Russia — distracted by its war in Ukraine — is visibly losing influence after decades of dominance.
At least 286 people were killed on both sides last month before a US-brokered ceasefire ended the worst clashes since the Neighbors’ War in 2020.
Baku and Yerevan fought two wars – in 2020 and in the 1990s – over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave of Azerbaijan.
“I appreciate the efforts of the United States to help return our 17 prisoners of war,” Pashinyan said on Twitter on Tuesday.
He expressed hope for further “progress in solving both humanitarian problems and in establishing peace in the region” – with international mediation.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is currently traveling in Latin America, began three-way talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirsoyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov on Tuesday.
Blinken welcomed the release of the prisoners and “reaffirmed our commitment to helping Armenia and Azerbaijan resolve issues peacefully,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Blinken also expressed “our appreciation for the positive steps Armenia and Azerbaijan are taking to reach a sustainable peace agreement.”
Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia met together with Blinken on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 20, and the two held joint talks again in Geneva on Sunday.
The Geneva talks followed an EU-brokered meeting between Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on August 31 in Brussels.
With Moscow increasingly isolated on the world stage following its invasion of Ukraine in February, the United States and the European Union have taken a leading role in mediating the normalization process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The six-week war in 2020 claimed the lives of more than 6,500 soldiers from both sides and ended in a Russian-brokered ceasefire.
Under the deal, Armenia ceded parts of territory it had controlled for decades, and Moscow dispatched about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to oversee the fragile truce.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.