Tag Archives: nagorno-karabagh defense forces

Is Nagorno-Karabakh Caught in a New War?

Eric Grigorian photo for Hetq Online
Eric Grigorian photo for Hetq Online

A new armed struggle to maintain the integrity of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic began in the early hours of April 2. Azerbaijan has admitted that it launched an all out attack long the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh, although Baku has subsequently denied that.

Many of us following the events during the last few days have been frustrated by the lack of information from the front lines. Often the same news was reported for eight hours or more on Facebook and Twitter feeds by users based in the region, most notably the supposed ceasefire initiated by Azerbaijan that proved to be disinformation. Official statements from the Nagorno-Karabakh government reveal the number of soldiers dead as well as the amount of destroyed military equipment. Until late April 3 few professional photographs taken along the line of contact were circulating in the press. Amateur as well as some professional video footage taken from a distance was also posted on various news sites.

As of this writing on April 4, this is what we know:

  • Contrary to earlier reports Azerbaijan has demonstrated that it has no intentions to initiate a ceasefire. The Nagorno-Karabakh defense ministry reported that massive shelling along the line of contact is continuing. In northern Karabakh Azeri forces are reportedly retreating and vital strategic positions have been recaptured by the Nagorno-Karabakh military.
  • Azerbaijan is continuing its offensive with “mortar and grenade attacks” all along the frontlines with the southeastern and northeastern points taking the brunt of the assault. Other equipment used in the assault include 152 mm cannons, Grad missiles and tanks.
  • The town of Martakert in the northern part of Nagorno-Karabakh, which resides virtually on the line of contact with Azerbaijan, was severely shelled throughout the day on April 2.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh forces have reportedly destroyed a total of 4 drones, two helicopters, 21 tanks (estimated) and multiple armed vehicles. Nagorno-Karabakh has reportedly lost one tank and three military trucks.
  • On April 3 Karabagh officially claimed six wounded, including two children, and four dead civilians, including one child. Hetq Online reported that in Martakert Azeri soldiers killed an elderly couple in their own home and cut off their ears. It is not clear whether that couple was factored in the official number of deaths. Official numbers on April 2 were 18 soldiers killed and 35 wounded, according to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. As of this writing there are no new reports of casualties.
  • Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has promised Turkey’s full support of Azerbaijan in the conflict “to the end.”
  • US Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Robert Dold (R-IL) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) have condemned Azerbaijan’s aggression in official statements. The Organization of American States (OAS) has also condemned Azerbaijan.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is purportedly working on a new plan to cease the hostilities. The Co-chairs of OSCE Minsk Group is due to meet today—we can expect a statement from them by the evening or on Tuesday.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of updates.

Let’s be clear: this is a new conflict. This fighting is not a violation of the 1994 ceasefire brokered by Russia; it demands a new legally binding agreement to end the hostilities. And although there have been skirmishes along the line of contact over the last 20 years, with even micro-battles being waged on occasion, there has been relative peace between the Nagorno-Karakakh Republic and Azerbaijan. This is essentially a new war—if we can indeed call it that only three days in. The Azeri offensive should not be seen as a “frozen conflict” suddenly thawed overnight.

I have not seen an official declaration of war from either side. The Nagorno-Karabakh forces have been on the defense by holding the line and reclaiming posts that had been taken by the Azerbaijani army “blitzkrieg,” as it’s been described by the Armenian press, of April 2.

For two days I refrained from writing about these clashes. Although I don’t think I’m alone in having expected a new conflict to erupt, the sudden events of the weekend have certainly been surreal given the relatively peaceful situation of the last 20 years.

Journalism used to spread hatred

I just read a blatantly pro-Azeri, potentially dangerous article about the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict on the front page of the New York Times Web site. Not one Armenian interviewed. Biased and dubious information throughout. The article casts Armenia in a bad light overall. Specifically, Armenia is to blame for the squalid conditions Azeri refugees from Karabagh live in when the blame should be cast on the Azerbaijani government for taking advantage of their miserable plight so that such poorly written stories can be written. Once again, the country that started the war in the first place, an important point the article does not mention and that many seem to forget/not understand, is portrayed as the victim state.

It should be obvious to anyone who follows this issue that the reporter, Ellen Barry, who is also apparently the Moscow Bureau chief for the Times, has clearly not done her homework. Case in point:

Azerbaijan sees little way forward: though it could easily drive out Armenian forces, Russia could send its army to help Armenia, its ally in a regional defense alliance, just as it did in South Ossetia.

That point would be good to make in a blog post for instance since it is essentially a speculative opinion, but not on the pages of a reputable newspaper with international clout. It’s obvious that Barry either knew about and chose to ignore or was clueless about confidential memos brought to light by Wikileaks back in February — go here to read the full text, but scroll down to see it. In a July 2, 2009 cable former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Derse wrote the following:

Azerbaijan, even with its focus on improving its military capability, is unlikely anytime soon to structure a force large or well-equipped enough to overcome the terrain advantages enjoyed by the NK Self-Defense Force and the Armenian army.

Couldn’t Barry have actually traveled to Karabagh via Armenia (the only way in) to interview the authorities, or made a phone call to the Armenian Foreign Ministry for comment? There were and should still be four flights operating from Moscow to Yerevan daily, so transportation shouldn’t be an issue, especially with all expenses paid by the paper. So why is it so hard to tell the whole story?

The entire piece was written from Baku using the opinions of Azeris, some of whom seem borderline fanatical with their calls for renewed war. Why not get Moscow’s opinion — doesn’t she think a single Russian diplomat has anything to say about one of the worst, if not the worst, Soviet-born simmering regional fiascoes? She’s based there!

I’d like to know who’s actually behind this story, and why the editors at the Times approved it.

Irresponsible, very disappointing journalism from what is considered to be one of the most celebrated, respected newspapers in the world. This is only adding fuel to the fire of animosity and hatred between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. It’s counterproductive, aggravating rhetoric at best.

Army Day a Holiday?

Today is Army Day in Armenia. On Monday Jan. 25 President Serge Sarkisian was giving out medals to select veterans in their honor during an apparent played-down ceremony–who picked them out is anyone’s guess.

So government is closed for the day as well as various companies and undoubtedly, NGOs. Remarkably, the media seems to be working, naturally a good thing.  On Sundays newspaper offices are all closed, which is odd since there is always news to report, day and night.

Anyway, a friend yesterday pointed out to me that on Army Day Armenians should be ever vigilant, rather than be at home lying around and drinking coffee or throwing back vodka shots throughout the day. After all, Armenia is still technically at war with Azerbaijan, despite the ceasefire that has been in effect since 1994. So long as no peace treaty is signed, there shouldn’t be any call for celebrating the past achievements of the Armenian army with an official day off from work–it is even satirical, borderline surreal.

Indeed, the soldiers of Armenia proudly defending  their nation should be commended and respected. Many young men flee Armenia when they turn 18 so they won’t be conscripted, claiming political asylum or making up cockamamie excuses not to stay and serve. Some even live in Armenia illegally as non-citizens, having moved here from another former Soviet country to escape military service there.

I am always proud to hear of someone choosing to serve bravely, unafraid of any hardships they may encounter either at the hands of despicable sergeants or poor living conditions, depending on the location. Men must serve two-year terms, although they may be extended another year due to a drought of able bodies, since less babies were born during the war. You can always pay a $5,000 “fee” to be exempt from service, or you can essentially buy yourself an easy position, like a desk job to avoid the front lines, far away from random crossfire.

Let’s hear it for the army, but in the meantime keep astutely alert. We’re not out of the woods yet.

Check out a great photostory about Nagorno-Karabagh Republic’s armed forces on Hetq Online.