In the case of Mubariz Alakbarov, the volunteer fighters had Armenian captives to offer in exchange, Mustafayev adds, but, similarly, nothing worked out.
"I don’t believe he will come back," Alakbarov’s mother, says of her husband in a low voice.
Establishing the chronology of a missing person’s life can be key to identifying his or her fate, comments Avaz Hasanov, who served as the Azerbaijani representative on a German non-profit, the International Working Group for the Release of Prisoners and Hostages and the Tracing of Missing Persons of the Karabakh Conflict, investigating these cases.
"Sometimes we were in military units, detention facilities, to clarify the data. We were also clarifying the information from people by visiting the villages,” Hasanov elaborates. “Unfortunately, our searches sometimes did not produce positive results since clerical work in the early years of the war was poorly done and the maps of the territories changed several times.”
Working in Armenia and Karabakh as well, Hasanov’s group has been able to find “a few missing bodies” over the past few years and return them to their families.
Other families’ longing for lost loved ones can expose them to questionable claims. Ten years ago, Elshad Alakbarov’s family got word that an Azerbaijani woman had seen Mubariz Alakbarov alive and working in a carpet factory in Iran. The woman, unacquainted with the family, claimed that he had given her a letter for them, but it never materialized. The carpet factory’s Baku office had no further information.
“After a while, we heard that the woman was arrested for fraud. We stopped our search," says Elshad Alakbarov.
To honor his father, Alakbarov has named one of his own sons Mubariz, which means “fighter.’
Ramazan Huseynov, a cleric in the western city of Barda’s Juma mosque, understands from firsthand experience the importance of accurate clues for finding missing people like Mubariz Alakbarov.
During the Karabakh conflict, many unidentified corpses were brought to his mosque.
"Before I buried them, I took photos of them,” Huseynov says. “I wrote on the back of the picture the grave number and some distinguishing mark about the buried person -- for example, about tattoos, or birthmarks on the face and so on. Then, we hung those photos from the wall [inside the mosque]. When the families of the deceased recognized the photographed martyrs, we opened the tomb and handed the body over to them. "
The most recent such find occurred in 2015.