Screenshot from YouTube video from Azerbaijani television showing captivity of alleged Armenian saboteur Mamiko Khojayan.
Two weeks after tensions spiked on the line of contact between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, much information about what is actually happening there remains unclear. A spokesman for Azerbaijan's defense ministry said on February 3 that "dozens" of Armenian soldiers had been killed, while the Armenian authorities in the de facto Nagorno Karabakh government denied that. And many of the first-reported claims about the upsurge in fighting -- an Armenian vehicle destroyed, attempted incursions by both sides -- remain murky.
One initial report has proven especially embarrassing for the Azerbaijani side. Citing the defense ministry, Azerbaijani media reported that on January 28, an Armenian "saboteur" was captured by Azerbaijani soldiers: "Armed and injured leader of an enemy intelligence-sabotage group Mamiko Khojayan was captured by our soldiers after a brief firefight."
But when Azerbaijani television stations aired footage of Khojayan, the image was not of an elite special ops commando, but of a disheveled, disoriented old man. And soon after, neighbors and relatives of the man in Armenia identified him as a 77-year-old mentally ill man.
"Azerbaijanis present this poor Armenian as a saboteur, but that doesn't mean it's the truth," Baku-based political analyst Zardusht Alizade told the BBC Azerbaijani service. Azerbaijani opposition media and, naturally, Armenian media have picked up the tragicomic story with gusto. "Look at this saboteur! To laugh or to cry? What more can you say, there is nothing to add to these photos...." wrote Azerbaijani opposition news site haqqin.az.
Some Azerbaijani sources, however, clung to the notion that Khojayan was in fact a special forces soldier. An Azerbaijani veteran of the Karabakh war told Baku newspaper Yeni Musavat that Khojayan's appearance was "camouflage" and that that is how members of intelligence units look, the BBC reported. But for the most part, people in the Azerbaijan government know that the story is embarrassing and just want it to go away, one well-placed Baku source told The Bug Pit. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment. But Khojayan remains in Baku, with local representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross monitoring his treatment.
Meanwhile, the situation continues to be tense. While the opposing ministries of defense have reported a recent decrease in ceasefire violations, the International Crisis Group have warned that "[t]he nature of the reported clashes and ominous statements by some government officials mark an escalation unprecedented in recent years." But with misinformation abounding, it's hard to know what's happening on the ground.