Azerbaijan's army and Armenia's armed forces

Tue 13 December 2011 07:10 GMT | 11:10 Local Time

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Adil Baguirov

by Adil Baguirov, Ph.D. Managing Director and co-founder, US Azeris Network (USAN).

On December 7, 2011, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission of the U.S. Congress, held a briefing entitled “Conflicts in the Caucasus: Prospects for Resolution” in the Congress. The briefing was led by Congressman Michael Burgess (R-TX), with three main experts offering their oral testimony: Tom de Waal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, E. Wayne Merry of the American Foreign Policy Council, and Dr. Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution. The U.S. Azeris Network (USAN) submitted its written testimony for the record.

The briefing offered several interesting perspectives from the testifying experts, as well as questions and comments from embassies of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, from the Azerbaijani-American grassroots advocacy diaspora organization - USAN, from the Armenian public television, and the Armenian lobby organization ANCA – Armenian National Committee of America. The U.S. Department of Justice FARA-registered foreign agents (lobbyists) who present themselves as the Office of the Armenian community of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, also asked a question.

It would require to write a rather long article to go through all the points and arguments heard at the briefing, which this author will not do at this time (but would refer everyone to his 2008 article in the Caucasian Review of International Affairs (CRIA) journal for some analysis of points heard at the briefing). In this essay, I would concentrate only on one aspect – the military-security paradigm, since that was the primary focus of the briefing -- conflicts in the Caucasus -- and the primary focus of one of its experts, Mr. Merry.

Those following the news from the Caucasus region probably remember the now infamous quote by Wayne Merry that in his opinion, "Azerbaijan has armed forces, while Armenia has an army”, which he said at a conference at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of the Johns Hopkins University on October 25, 2006 (which this author attended back then). Needless to say, that quote, which raised many eyebrows at the time of people more familiar with the region than Mr. Merry, quickly spread all over the Internet via the Armenian media publications and news analysts, who were happy to present this highly speculative opinion and add it to the list of similarly spurious opinions from mostly non-military experts that trashed the Azerbaijani army whilst singing accolades to the Armenian armed forces.

The 2006 speech, which he basically repeated in his May 2009 article in the Open Democracy Network, followed the same basic line – that no matter what, in Mr. Merry’s opinion, Armenia’s army had, has and will retain a presumed advantage in five distinct categories: geography (ground, terrain), firepower, reserves of weaponry and munitions, military operational art, and strategic depth (i.e., Russian support). To further add credibility to his speculation and pre-emptively fend off criticism, Mr Merry, who never fought in any wars, at that time never been to any part of Azerbaijan (including to Karabakh), and was a diplomat (despite Pentagon credentials and being posted to Marine Corps as a civilian for a year), stated that this is supposedly something akin to a consensus of the U.S. intelligence community, which he knows due to all kinds of security credentials and top secret clearances he has enjoyed over the years at the State Department, Pentagon and Congress. The hint Mr. Merry made to his critics – do not bother unless you also have his security credentials. Was it a convenient position? Very. Fair? Perhaps. Accurate? Definitely not. 

What a difference Wikileaks made –due to this extraordinary release of classified, confidential and secret documents, everyone in America and beyond enjoyed a sort of security credentials and top secret clearances akin to Mr. Merry’s. This data dump offered plenty of evidence to lift the propaganda veil on the military situation in the region that has been promulgated by the Armenian lobby and readily consumed and taken at face value by some analysts in U.S.

While not minimizing the fact that Armenia, with major external economic aid and military assistance, has been militarily occupying almost 16% of Azerbaijan (including the NK region) since the 1990’s, has killed 25,000 Azerbaijanis (including a war crime known as the Khojaly Massacre), wounded 100,000 and ethnically cleansed, displaced and made refugees some 800,000, and is thus considered a “victor” in the 1988-1994 phase of the Karabakh war, it should be noted that Azerbaijani strategy of dual containment and embargo of Armenia with simultaneous military modernization and reforms has led to significant improvements and altered the economic, financial, security and military balance in Azerbaijan’s favor. While Azerbaijani economy has been growing non-stop since the mid-1990s, Armenia’s contracted by some 15%, leading Forbes magazine to call Armenia the second worst economy this year – in the world. Azerbaijan’s population grew from 7.4 million in the 1990 to over 9 million today, whilst Armenia’s shrank from 3.8 million in 1989 to some 2-2,5 million today.

It therefore presents a great deal of interest to see what independent and Armenian sources privately admitted that would shed light on the military, security and political aspects of Armenia’s occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, and provide a superior framework for a more objective military analysis, not the type of propaganda chest-thumping typically found in media of all warring sides.

The issue with Wayne Merry’s statements is not that they have changed – as this year in last week’s Congressional briefing Mr. Merry did not make the same categorical statements he was making in 2006-2009, this time saying that both sides would lose in case of renewed active phase of the Karabakh war, noting Azerbaijan’s military modernization and build-up, and noting the spectacular rise of Turkey. After all, every analyst has the right to adjust and change his/her views in light of new evidence and after gaining better familiarity with the facts. However, that does not eliminate the responsibility for statements made years ago, especially if they are not expressly repudiated by its author and mistakes are not admitted.

The irony is that while Mr. Merry was speculating in Washington DC on October 25, 2006, Serzh Sargsian, then Defense Minister of Armenia, and currently its President, and clearly a top expert on Armenian military (which he, along with others, built – as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Marie Yovanovitch wrote in one of the confidential cables, president Sargsian is “a Kharabakhi and a commander who has seen the ravages of war”) and very knowledgeable of the Azerbaijani military, was saying something radically different just one month earlier in Yerevan on September 25, 2006. Here is straight from the summary of the confidential cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan to Washington DC:

“Sargsian made a pitch to restart the flow of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) money allocated to Armenia. He also noted that Armenia's ability to reform its military was limited, saying that, if Armenia pulled its soldiers out of the trench positions along the line of contact, Azerbaijani forces would overrun those positions within hours.” (Source: General Ward Talks Fmf And N-k With Defmin, Origin: Embassy Yerevan (Armenia), Mon, 25 Sep 2006 06:32 UTC)

The confidential embassy cable offers more details: “Sargsian told the General that, much as the GOAM would like to step up the pace to reform its military, it could not do so fully as long as the possibility of renewed conflict with Azerbaijan remained a national security threat. He said that 80 percent of the Armenian military is involved in "daily vigilance" in trench positions in Nagorno Karabakh. "If we don't man trenches for five hours, the Azeris will take them," he said. Sargsian said the GOAM could not divert its full attention to training and reform. General Ward said he understood Armenia's positions, but said the U.S. learned in World War I that trenches were not necessarily a guarantee against attack.” (ibid., 25 Sep 2006 cable)

Thus, while a former mid-level U.S. diplomat and analyst claims that Azerbaijan has only “armed forces” whilst Armenia has “an army”, that Azerbaijan is hopelessly behind Armenia in five military categories that matter, and it is some mysterious “Nagorno-Karabakh forces” that are occupying Azerbaijan, the top Armenia armed forces expert, its co-founder and chief said that Azerbaijani army would overrun their positions within five hours if the Armenian soldiers that are actually from Karabakh region would stay by themselves, without the help of some 37,347 troops (80% of 46,684 active personnel Republic of Armenia has) from Armenia proper. It also indirectly proves that the entire Armenian troops stationed on the occupied Azerbaijani territories – 80% of the army of Armenia plus some 10,000 Armenians of Karabakh – can barely keep up their illegal seizure of 16% of Azerbaijan. To add insult to injury, General Ward said that even those trenches dug out by the Armenian armed forces, which Armenians refer to as “Ohanyan’s Line” (named after the current Defense Minister of Armenia, who lost his leg in the process of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes against Azerbaijani civilians), might not save Armenian armed forces from a successful piercing by the Azerbaijani army.

Of course, such rational and truthful assessment by Sargsian could only be expected in private to a visiting dignitary from a friendly nation. Sargsian had an expectation of privacy and secrecy – everyone whose name appears in Wikileaks documents had the same expectation. In public, the same Sargsian makes highly inflammatory, reckless rhetoric and serious threats, smacking of Nazi terminology about a “Final Solution”, only now as President of Armenia in 2010: "If push suddenly comes to shove, we will manage not just to repeat what happened in 1992-1994 but to finally resolve the conflict and the issue will be closed once and for all" and "But if the moment arrives, if they force us, our strike must be devastating and final this time around." (Source: Lusine Musayelian, Sarkisian Threatens ‘Final Strike’ On Azerbaijan, Radio Liberty/Armenia, 14.11.2010)

Thus, Sargsian, who proudly boasted to Tom de Waal on what “happened in 1992-1994”, namely, about the war crime of Khojaly Massacre: “Before Khojali, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that [stereotype]. And that is what happened.” (Source: Thomas de Waal, “Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War,” NYU Press 2004, p.172), continues to dream about a “devastating and final” solution to the conflict. Hint to the wise – there is no such solution. Armenians will be living alongside Azerbaijanis, Turks and Georgians for generations to come, and Armenian government and elites should learn to live in peace, as well as to repent for committing crimes against humanity in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia and Iran throughout the 20th century.

To be sure, Sargsian’s minions try to outdo their master in a twisted parody of a competition. It would have been laughable, had it not also been sad and outrageous all at the same time. For example, the then-Defense Minister of Armenia, Gen. Mikael Harutyunyan declared in 2008: “If Azerbaijan wants 2 more million refugees, it will get them in case it resumes war in Karabakh". (Source: Armenian army ready to rebuff any Azeri aggression, PanARMENIAN.Net, January 18, 2008 - 18:01 AMT  14:01 GMT). For this admission alone – of making two million Azerbaijanis refugees - Gen. Harutyunyan should be facing a military tribunal or the tribunal in The Hague. If Saif Qaddafi is, why shouldn’t Harutyunyan?

Not to be outdone, Lt.-Gen. Manvel Grigoryan, who is the Chairman of Erkrapa Military Volunteers Organization, boasted in the summer of 2011: “Let it be known – I have things to do in Baku [in the next war – ed.]” (Source: A1+ TV (Armenia), “I have things to do in Baku”, June 27, 2011). Although, when the same Gen. Grigoryan was humiliated in his own backyard of Echmiadzin by some Ayko, a right-hand man of the Moscow-based mafia boss Ded Hasan, the brave general’s bravado quickly dissipated.

Maj-Gen. Bako Sahakyan, who is the nominal commander of the Armenia armed forces’ Karabakh occupation expeditionary corps (as an army corps commander, he has some 10,000 armed men under his command, which is basically one army division), uttered this in 2008: “It is worth mentioning that successful completion of the recent offensive war games has demonstrated that the Defense Army not only effectively protects our borders but if necessary it is able to transfer military operations deep into the territory of an aggressor state and enforce it to accept peace.” (Source: Bako Sahakian: NKR Army Is Strong And Ready To Rebuff Any Encroachment of Enemy, Noyan Tapan, Dec 19, 2008)

And to wrap-up this colorful collection, the abovementioned Gen. Seyran Ohanian in an interview with RFE/RL in the end of 2010 declared that the long-range weapons sought by Yerevan would be aimed at "strategic facilities" of hostile neighbors. (Source: Armenia Approves Army Modernization Plan, RFE/RL, December 14, 2010). Apparently, occupying 16% of Azerbaijan whilst experiencing declines in economy and demography of Armenia are not enough for these war-mongers – Gen. Ohanyan wants to destroy civilian infrastructure like power stations, airports and fuel reservoirs, and dig his “Ohanyan Line” longer by picking fights with Georgia and Turkey, too.

It is already clear that all this bravado of Armenian Generals Ohanyan, Sahakyan, Grigoryan and Harutyunyan, as well as of Sargsian himself, is in stark contrast with what the very same Sargsian admits confidentially, in private. However, to make sure that no one thinks conclusions are made based on just one cable, no matter its candor, reliability and importance, further confidential U.S. embassy cables should be analyzed below.

Vardan Oskanyan, the long-serving Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, and before that, its deputy FM, admitted to U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in 2010 that the military balance in the region was shifting in Azerbaijan’s favor: “While a new war over Nagorno-Karabakh would be a risky proposition for Azerbaijan, Oskanian sees two elements that indicate the situation there is worsening: 1) people are losing hope in the diplomatic process to settle the issue; and 2) the military balance in the area is shifting in favor of Azerbaijan”. (Source: EX-ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PESSIMISTIC ON RAPPROCHEMENT WITH TURKEY, Origin: Embassy Yerevan, Created: 2010-02-25  07:50:00)

However, since former FM is not a military expert, just like any Ambassador or diplomat (e.g., Amb. Derse, Amb. Wilson, who also commented on the regional military situation before), one might remain unconvinced. Thus, let us see another U.S. embassy cable, this time quoting an Armenian military expert Sergei Sargsyan who made an important observation in 2007: “the real key issue for Armenian security was  Azerbaijan's ability to punch through Armenian and Karabakhi  fortifications surrounding the disputed territory of Nagorno  Karabakh. While treaty-limited heavy weaponry (such as tanks, large caliber artillery, and combat aircraft) are of only limited use for sustained combat operations in the ruggedly mountainous terrain in and around NK, he said, they would be critical to Azerbaijan's ability to penetrate the entrenched defensive ring that Armenian/Karabakhi forces have  built up around the disputed territory over the past 13  years, and could make a decisive difference in the early  phase of any future conflict.” (Source: Armenia Dismayed By Russian Position On CFE Suspension, Worries Of South Caucasus Arms Race, Origin: Embassy Yerevan (Armenia), Cable time: Thu, 9 Aug 2007 12:26 UTC).

Another ex-military commander Manvel Yeghiazaryan of the Arabo unit, recently carefully stated, requires some between the lines reading: "The time is over for us to march in place. Armenia must grow and have a quality army. The rule of law must be established in Armenia." (Inga Martinyan, "Arabo" commander - Armenia must grow; army must improve, Hetq, January 27, 2011)

So Armenian military experts and government officials privately admit that Azerbaijani army is superior to Armenia’s armed forces – but what if that’s just a conspiracy by these insiders to drum up more funds for the military-industrial complex? Is this opinion shared by non-military analysts in Armenia? The answer is yes – here is from a U.S. embassy cable in 2009 quoting Artyom Yerkanian, an analyst at local Shant TV, and Stepan Grigorian: “Could Azerbaijan gain the upper hand with time? After all, Baku has oil money flooding in and its defense budgets are fat and getting fatter. Yerkanian argued that Armenians should be concerned, since serious research on demographics and resources shows time is not on the Armenian side. But, he said, Armenians are not prone to such worries. As Stepan  Grigorian, Chairman of the Analytical Center on Globalization  and Regional Cooperation, explained, Armenians don't engage  in such rational calculation, calling it "too western." The Armenian calculation, he said, is an easy one: "We won; we're not giving up." (Source: Nagorno-karabakh: Forces Align Behind The Status Quo. Origin: Embassy Yerevan (Armenia), Cable time: Wed, 23 Sep 2009 12:48 UTC).

Another Armenian political analyst, David Petrosyan, noted in 2010 that the military parity and balance has been broken, in Azerbaijan’s favor (Panarmenian, David Petrosyan: Azerbaijan's purchase of S-300 sets to break regional parity, August 2, 2010).

To be sure, Armenian military experts started to carefully and slowly change their rhetoric from previous woes to reach Baku, occupy Nakhchivan or cut Azerbaijan into two by thrusting towards Evlakh and Mingechavir, to more conservative rhetoric, such as what one of the most revered Armenian generals and war veterans, Maj-Gen. Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan (aka “Commandos”) admitted in 2010: “If Azerbaijan unleashes a new war, it can dominate for a while, thanks to its military hardware. But, thanks to its experience and spirit, Karabakh defense army will rebuff the Azeri aggression” (Source: “Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan: return of liberated territories can result in Armenia’s collapse”, PanARMENIAN.Net / TIMES.AM, 1 July 2010, 3:26 PM)

Of course, it would be too much to ask the Armenian general to admit more than this in public – although this admission alone, that Azerbaijan would dominate thanks to more and better military hardware, and that the Armenian side at best would be able to only “rebuff” Azerbaijani liberation campaign, not occupy more lands, is vivid enough. Meanwhile, it is not clear what advantage in “experience and spirit” is Gen. Ter-Tadevosyan referring to, but it reminds of Mr. Merry’s reference to superior “military operational art”. Such categories are hard to quantify and thus can be manipulated by those with greater media outreach, which the Armenian side retains a clear leadership in.

To be sure, the experience of the Armenian military from the 1988-1994 war has been significantly degraded and reduced in the years since, as most military commanders are not even alive anymore, and new commanders grew up believing they are just superior human beings than the commanders on the other side (the racist slurs used by Armenian talking heads is a subject of another extensive fact sheet), who have graduated from the best Turkish NATO military academies. The “experience” that the Armenian side has lost since the last war: Lt-Gen Hratch Andresyan, the first deputy minister of defense, died in 1999, as did another deputy defense minister, Russian-Ukrainian Lt-Gen. Anatoliy Zinevich in 2000; Vazgen Sargsyan, the main founder of Armenian armed forced, was assassinated in 1999; Monte Melkonian was killed in 1993; Maj-General Azoyan Basentsi, who was the chief of Armenian armed forces Chief of Generals Staff’s intelligence directorate, died; and Lt-Gen. Khristofor Ivanyan, a high-level commander of Armenian expeditionary corps that occupied Karabakh, died in 1999. Two other prominent generals, Samvel Babayan and Zhirayir Sefilyan, were arrested in 2000 and 2006, respectively. Meanwhile, the man who was the chief of general’s staff and first deputy defense minister of the Armenian armed forces during the entire course of the war, Lt.-Gen. Norat Ter-Grigoryants, has long since retired, lives in Moscow and is currently 76 years old.

Considering that Lt-Gen. Norat Ter-Grigoryants was, along with Vazgen Sargsyan, Monte Melkonian, Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargisian, one of the most revered military figures for Armenians, and continues to be such today, his opinion is almost just as valuable as that of Serzh Sargsian. Let us see what did Lt-Gen. Ter-Grigoryants admit to the state-run Golos Armenii newspaper in September 2010: “[We must] teach the population to conduct partisan warfare in case of enemy’s penetration into our territory. … Current situation does not satisfy military security of Nagorno-Karabakh”. This is not a rhetoric of someone who believes in his superiority.

However, some might counter saying that the general is warning against complacency and is thus being professional. Such counter-argument would not suffice after reading his other interview to the newspaper Yerkramas, also in September 2010, when asked a direct question “Are you satisfied with the condition of the armed forces of Armenia and Artsakh?” In prior years, when posed such questions, he and others never hesitated to respond affirmatively, with only some basic qualifiers to avoid being accused of complacency. However, now the general’s tone about the condition of the entire Armenian army implies alarm and ambiguity: “This is a secret. There is no definitive answer.” It is rather shocking to hear such oversize military figures as Gen. Ter-Grigoryants give such hesitant responses, as it is eye-opening to read Gen. Ter-Tadevosyan to even allow a thought of Azerbaijani military piercing through Armenian defenses on occupied territories and dominating, even if “for a while”. Hence, both of these generals, former FM Vardan Oskanian and others, like Serzh Sargsian in private, seem realistic about the fact of Azerbaijan’s military superiority. 

But what if this is all a recent phenomenon due to Azerbaijan’s oil wealth on one hand and Armenia’s worsening economy and depopulation on the other hand. What if five or ten years ago the situation was radically different? Let us see a very revealing statement from then President Robert Kocharyan, one of the co-founders of the Armenian army, whose military record is revered by Armenians, and makes him one of the most powerful men in Armenia to this day. After he fired his then minister of defense Vagharshak Haroutiunian in May 2000 (and replaced him with Serzh Sargsian), president Kocharyan remarked that he did so because "the Armenian army would have found itself on the verge of collapse if he had stayed in office for another six months." He added that the former head of the ministry of defense "was the only general of the Armenian army who did not spend a day on the front" and "rather–he was a general of Moscow restaurant’s." According to president Kocharyan, another reason for dismissing Haroutiunian were complaints received from different military units and unsatisfactory indices in the army registered at that period (June 1999 – May 2000). Thus, according to president Kocharian, the efficiency of the Armenian army, was also in a neglected state. "I immediately participated in the creation of the army and I could not stay indifferent to that," said Kocharyan. (Noyan Tapan/Asbarez, Kocharian Explains Defense Minister Dismissal, July 10th, 2002; also in: RFE/RL Newsline , ARMENIAN PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER..., July 12, 2002). For some reason this very interesting statement – that in just six months of status quo the Armenian army would have been on the verge of collapse – went unnoticed by the talking heads that were busy repeating the propaganda myths about the supposed superiority of the “best army in the post-Soviet space”.

However, let us play devil’s advocate and presuppose that the combined U.S. cables and Armenian media that quote president Serzh Sargsian, FM Vardan Oskanian, military expert Sergei Sargsyan, two experts Artyom Yerkanian and Stepan Grigorian, Gen. Norat Ter-Grigoryants, Gen. Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, president Robert Kocharyan and a growing number of Armenian officials and experts, inflate their fears. After all so many not just Armenian, but also Russian pundits and analysts repeated spurious opinion about supposed Armenian military superiority. Let us turn to a very recent and authoritative Russian source – the Institute of Economic Strategies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN). According to its 2011 publication, “Military potential of 100 leading countries in the world”, Azerbaijan’s armed forces were overall ranked #55 in the world, whilst Armenia’s only #88 in the world. The Military potential of forces of general use (SON) ranking had Azerbaijan at 51 vs. Armenia’s 68. In the Cumulative military potential ranking of Azerbaijan was once again significantly ahead of Armenia: 57 vs. 78, respectively. Thus, according to the latest comprehensive research of 100 militaries, even Russian government researchers agree that Azerbaijan has a significant advantage over Armenia in the military-security field.

This is not the first time that an objective ranking of military potential places Azerbaijan far ahead of Armenia. In its 2002 index of martial potency, the prestigious peer-reviewed academic RUSI Journal, published by the British Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (RUSI), placed Azerbaijan’s military at #86 with 4,21 points, and Armenia at only #101 place, with 3,66 points. Turkey was #16 (6,77 points), Iran #18 (6,72 points), and Russia #2 (8,57 points), in case anyone wonders. Azerbaijan was also ahead of Armenia in the 2001 RUSI index of martial potency (see Volume 147, Issue 6, 2002, and Volume 146, Issue 6, 2001).

Thus, we know that in firepower, reserves of weaponry and munitions, as well as in the operational art, Azerbaijan by now either enjoys an advantage, sometimes significant, or they are about equal and too hard to measure, especially since past performance is a not a good predictor of future performance, as we know from the financial industry (though, this does not mean history should not be consulted or taken into account).

This leaves us to deal with the geography (ground, terrain) and strategic depth. On the latter, clearly, Armenia is Russia’s outpost in the Caucasus – however Azerbaijan enjoys good-neighborly relations with Russia, has a treaty on friendship, enjoys billions in trade turnover, is a member of the CIS and is being courted to join the CSTO – Russia’s military block, where Azerbaijan’s allies, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, as well as Kyrgizstan and Tajikistan, are also members, and whose acquiescence is needed for any collective action by the military block.

In other words, Azerbaijan is not Georgia circa 2008 – neither in terms of relations with Russia, nor in terms of economic and military clout (Azerbaijan is 70% of Caucasus’ economy, a net exporter of energy, has $30 billion piled up in the bank, self-sufficient in basic defense materiel and has a combined armed force of 200,000, according to Russian sources).

Additionally, the security situation in North Caucasus is worsening, and anything negative happening to Azerbaijan would undoubtedly reverberate across the entire Caucasus for not only economic, financial, security and political reasons – as Azerbaijan has considerable clout with Daghestan, where an Azerbaijani ethnic minority resides – but also due to religious factor, since the Sheikh ul-Islam and Grand Mufti of the Muslims of the entire Caucasus is historically located in Azerbaijan.

On the flip side of the coin, Azerbaijan has a rising regional power of Turkey on its side, as well as Pakistan, which on several occasions promised military support when Azerbaijan will start its liberation campaign and is the only state in the world that refuses to recognize Armenia to protest its illegal occupation of Azerbaijan. Additionally, the “strategic depth” should factor in Iran– according to The New York Times, one-third of Iran’s population are ethnic Azerbaijanis. During the previous war, scores of Azerbaijanis from Iran volunteered to fight in Karabakh, and according to a recent (May 2011) statement by Ayatollah Seyed Hasan Ameli, they provided free armaments to the cash-strapped Azerbaijani army. Thus, while Armenian side probably continues to enjoy an advantage in strategic depth, it is not as large or omnipotent as some would lead us to believe, and it is eroding.

In terms of geography, we can note that the Armenian army enjoys an obvious advantage on most of the terrain it has occupied– although Azerbaijani army was able to liberate some 700 square kilometers of land since the 1994 cease-fire, and capture some of the strategic heights, such as the Gulistan mountain top in the northern part of the occupied NK, in 1999. These achievements have seemingly not been publicized by Azerbaijan in its quest to modernize, build-up, reform and improve the army, and gain an overwhelming advantage over its aggressor.

Also, that mountainous terrain is easily turning into a liability in terms of protecting Armenian armed forces and military infrastructure from Azerbaijani airborne assault – after all, Armenian radars, all hidden behind the mountains, simply cannot see through the massive granite and rock formations of the Karabakh mountain range. In comparison, due to geography and larger terrain, the Azerbaijani air defenses would have more time to intercept Armenian first strikes and retaliatory attacks (and considering that Azerbaijan’s S-300 PMU-2 are superior to Armenia’s older S-300P and S-300V, it is even easier to do). This factor is also rarely noted by so-called military experts that are saturating the news space with their commentary.

Nevertheless, due to the terrain advantage, under most scenarios, Azerbaijani army would be losing soldiers 3 to 1 Armenian due to the mountainous terrain and the nature of the war: liberation campaign. After all, it is Azerbaijan that is trying to liberate its lands, restore its territorial integrity and sovereignty, not Armenia. With that comes a higher price – whenever you want something more than someone else, you have to be prepared to pay more. Azerbaijanis understand that well. In the last round of the war, Armenia lost 6,000 soldiers and officers, whilst Azerbaijan lost 11,500 soldiers and officers (thus, on a per capita basis, Azerbaijan actually lost less than Armenia). Since the 1994 cease-fire, Armenia has lost at least another 1,000 soldiers and officers, whilst Azerbaijan, which constantly tries to liberate more lands and acts from a worse start-off position, lost about 2,500. In a renewed large-scale fighting Azerbaijani losses would be much greater – but so would Armenia’s. As numerous analysts have remarked, a new war would be very hard for Azerbaijan, but catastrophic for Armenians on occupied territories.

Although, it is highly unlikely that Azerbaijan would just send its soldiers on some brute-force, full frontal assault type of a liberation campaign, like seen in movies and like some Western analysts seem to project in their scenarios. The large-scale assault by troops during a liberation campaign would probably be preceded with a day or more of full-on bombardment, missile and rocket launches –where Azerbaijani SMERCH multiple rocket launch systems (MLRS), along with other MLRS systems and artillery, such as Uragan, Grad/Lynx, Pion, Tochka-U, Akatsia, Nona, Gvozdika and Giatsin, not to mention the substantial air force, would destroy or degrade a sizeable portion of the military infrastructure and hardware the Armenian army has on the occupied territories, including the airport and the Lachin highway. The strikes would be more precise through the real-time coordination from the dozens of Israeli-designed UAVs as well as Azerbaijani black ops special forces deep behind enemy lines passing on GPS coordinates. The mine fields Armenian army thinks it protected itself with would be overrun with Azerbaijani Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles, such as Matador and Marauder, as well as mine-clearing vehicles and considerable experience (“operational art”) that the Azerbaijani National Agency on Mine-Clearing (ANAMA) has acquired since 1994 (and has been sharing with countries around the world, where land mines are a problem). Azerbaijan possesses a disproportionally large number of special forces troops – including those that train annually with the U.S. Navy SEALs and have won praise from them – who are professional soldiers that have undergone years of training and are equipped with the best technology Israeli military-industrial complex has to offer. They would be able to liberate some of the most important strategic heights, occupy or destroy military infrastructure and positions, such as reinforced concealed concrete fire positions and bunkers (pillboxes).

However, like Gen. Ter-Tadevosyan, many analysts constantly refer to the supposedly higher battle spirit of the Armenian army. This highly questionable claim has been repeated year after year by many talking heads, despite not being true even in the 1988-1994 period, when Azerbaijani army was winning the war (June-September 1992), destroyed the so-called “Arabo” terrorist unit (June 1992) and killed Monte Melkonian (1993), among other achievements (e.g., successfully defended Nakhchivan throughout the war, advanced in Fizuli district in May 1994). Today, thanks to independent and U.S.-funded polls, we have a better metric on the question of who has a higher “spirit” and “morale” among the population.

The Prime Minister of Armenia, Mr. Tigran Sargsyan has noted in 2009: “What worries most our citizens? Our studies and sociological surveys have shown that our citizens are concerned about social justice more than about the problem of pensions and salaries, unemployment or creation of new jobs, inflation and not even the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh or recognition of genocide.” (Source: Armenia Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan’s FY 2010 State Budget Bill Introduction Remarks for National Assembly, Government of Armenia Official Website, Wednesday, 18 November 2009). In other words, the top Armenian government official admits that NK is not even a top issue for Armenians – certainly not an issue they would want to die for. Why should they, if their economy is worse off than Azerbaijan’s, and if their army does not inspire the same trust and respect as in Azerbaijan, due to involvements in coups and assassinations as recently as 1998, 1999 and 2008?

According to a 2006 USAID poll, conducted by Gallup and U.S. International Republican Institute (IRI), in Armenia: “Most important issues Armenia is facing (%)”: "Problem of Nagorno Karabakh" - first mention - 17%, all mentions - 25% (ranked #2 for those first mentioning, and #4 for all mentions, behind unemployment, social-economic situation, development of economy/industry) (Source: ARMENIAN NATIONAL VOTERS STUDY, Poll by the International Republican Institute, Baltic Surveys Ltd. / The Gallup Organization, Armenian Sociological Association with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), May 2006, p. 13).

According to a similar USAID poll held in 2005 in Azerbaijan, the question "Resolving the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh" generated 93% of responses as being the top issue and was ranked as the #1 concern of the people – the only issue that broke the 90% barrier (Source: AZERBAIJAN NATIONAL PRESENTATION, Poll by the International Republican Institute with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), July 2005, p. 30).

So the war in NK is a #1 problem for Azerbaijanis, but only #4 problem for Armenians.

Likewise, according to the annual U.S.-funded poll “Caucasus Barometer”, held in 2010, to the question on the trust towards the army, on a 5-point scale, where '1' means "Fully distrust", and '5' means "Fully trust" - a whopping 59% of Azerbaijanis indicated their full trust, with another 29% indicating trust with four points, with only 1% fully distrusting the Azerbaijani army.

The same question posed in Armenia in the same year by the same poll yielded only a 48% “Fully trust” and 28% trust with four points, with 4% fully distrusting the Armenian army.

When asked about the most important issue facing Azerbaijan at the moment by the same poll in 2010, a whopping 53% indicated “Territorial integrity” and 2% indicated “Peace”. Same question posed in Armenia generated 5% for “Territorial integrity” and 9% for “Peace”.

So objective facts are in, speculations are out – according to all U.S.-funded and organized polls, Azerbaijanis care by far the most about Nagorno-Karabakh, and trust their army considerably more than Armenians, while valuing peace less than territorial integrity – a clear indicator that Azerbaijani people are not shying away from restoring their country’s territorial integrity by force.

With sinking economy and depopulation, Armenian people’s trust towards their government institutions, especially its army, is falling – partly because Armenians drafted in Armenia proper are, according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, being sent against their will for “daily vigilance”, in Serzh Sargsian’s speak, on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan (e.g., case of Armen Grigoryan, June 2004). However, an even greater reason is the army’s involvement in the election crackdown in 2008, which left at least 10 protesters dead in Yerevan.

The Armenian people are paying a high cost for their Pyrrhic victory in 1994 – the sustaining of illegal military occupation of 16% of Azerbaijan costs Armenian economy and democracy a lot, as both have been on a fast decline. This is not just a common sense observation, but the opinion of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) “Armenia’s shift away from a war footing would also further U.S. interests in Armenia’s economic development and improved standards of living (Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, FY2007)” (CRS, RL30679, Updated Jan 31, 2008, p. 29).

Surely, Armenia can continue spending hundreds of millions on defense - Armenia spends a larger portion of its budget, some 25%, on defense than Azerbaijan, which spends about 20%. For Armenia, defense is the #1 expenditure, for Azerbaijan, it is #2 behind education. All this will of course make the liberation campaign prohibitively expensive, in terms of human cost, for Azerbaijan. However, in the process, Armenian government is terminally hurting its economy and its people’s future, as it cannot sustain pace with Azerbaijan for another 20 years (as both nations are celebrating their 20th anniversary of re-establishment of independence, this term has a symbolic meaning).

Independent statistics and polls do not lie – it is clear that the economic, financial and demographic gap between the two nations is widening, and thus it has the same effect on the widening military gap.

Unfortunately, objective analysis rarely makes headlines, with many Western analysts repeating the irresponsible statements of the Armenian media and talking heads. This only prolongs the conflict between the nation, the suffering of the 800,000 Azerbaijanis who cannot return back to their native lands, and the collective suffering of 9 million Azerbaijanis and 2,5 million Armenians living in the South Caucasus who will continue to experience arrested development for as long as occupation of Karabakh persists.

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