A court in the Nagorno-Karabakh province convicted two Azerbaijani citizens of espionage.
The proceedings which took place in the town of Stepanakert issued a verdict to the two defendants giving one a life sentence and the other a 22-year prison term.
Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev were purportedly caught by the Armenian troops deployed in Nagorno Karabakh when they crossed the line of contact between the Armenian and Azerbaijani troops earlier this year. Both individuals had been detained at various times and have been considered civilians.
The separatist authorities in Nagorno Karabakh claim they were armed and crossed the line of contact to conduct espionage. Another Azeri civilians, Hasan Hasan was shot dead when he found himself confronting Armenian soldiers.
The Azerbaijani side claims these individuals have nothing to do with the military and have merely gone into the conflict zone to visit graves of their parents. All of them are internally displaced persons (IDPs) who once lived in Nagorno Karabakh before Armenian army drove them out in 1992-1994, creating a major refugee crisis in Azerbaijan.
Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan along with some adjacent districts has been under control of Armenian army since May 1994 when the Russian-brokered ceasefire ended the bloody war between the two former Soviet republics.
Peace talks brokered individually by regional powers such as Russia and Iran, as well as negotiations under auspices of OSCE Minsk Group have led to nowhere so far. Both sides maintain maximalist positions and reject full compromises. Armenia maintains it will agree to nothing short of full independence of Nagorno-Karabakh or its joining to Armenia, while Azerbaijan holds it will not allow violation of its sovereignty and can only provide highest autonomy to Nagorno Karabakh within Azerbaijan. Nagorno Karabakh has not been recognized by any country or international organization.
Baku has been heavily investing into its military-industrial complex and modernization of its armed forces by increasing its military budget to $4.2 billion for 2015 surpassing the entire budget of Republic of Armenia. Armenia, meanwhile, enjoys the backing of Moscow and gets military equipment from Russia at subsidized prices.
Shooting along the line of contact and Armenian-Azerbaijani border are frequent leading to concerns of the international community that the flare-ups would eventually lead to resumption of a full scale war. Downing of an Armenian military helicopter flying over Azerbaijani positions in November was one of those instances.