The War for Nagorno-Karabakh

Posted by Brodie Kirkpatrick on

Back in July, we covered a series of clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The region has effectively been held by Armenia since the conclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh War (1992-1994). An Armenian-puppet state, the Republic of Artsakh, was declared in the region following the war. To avoid confusion, both “Armenia” and “Artsakh” will simply be referred to as “Armenia” in this article. Our article on the July clashes is up on this blog if you want some more context for current events. I also wrote an article for Fortress International regarding the new round of fighting with some more historical context. I’ll post links for both articles at the bottom of this one.

On September 26th, Azerbaijan launched a ground offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh following a barrage of artillery and airstrikes. On that day it appeared that Azeri forces suffered heavy losses in manpower and equipment and were repelled by Armenian forces. The next day, September 27th, general mobilization of the armed forces was declared in Armenia. On September 28th, partial mobilization of the Azeri armed forces was declared. Heavy fighting has continued since the beginning of the offensive and at this time Armenia appears to be losing. The nation’s military heavily relies on conscripts and reservists; and for that reason Armenia has suffered heavy losses. Armenian Prime Minister has called on conscripts that exited the armed forces within the past year to volunteer to serve once again.

Foreign fighters have also been used by both sides to varying degrees. It was widely reported that before the offensive Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan, deployed hundreds of fighters from the Syrian National Army (SNA) to fight alongside Azeri forces. The SNA is the Turkish-backed and trained successor organization to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which opposes the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey has long used the SNA as a proxy force to accomplish its objectives, notably in northern Syria and more recently in Libya. Armenia has claimed that nearly 4,000 SNA fighters have been sent to Azerbaijan without supporting evidence. However, SNA fighters that have been interviewed by Reuters gave figures from 700-1,000 being deployed to the fight. Those that were interviewed were reportedly assigned to the Hamza Division and the Sultan Murad Division, two prominent units of the SNA. Sergey Naryshikin, the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, stated that hundreds of fighters have joined the conflict. A report by Russian media site Kommersant claims that 1,300 SNA personnel have been sent to the fight, with another group of 150 mercenaries from Libya with them. It also states that another group of 1,500 SNA personnel has been trained in Syria and is standing by for deployment orders. Numerous videos have been released online showing SNA members engaged in frontline combat and even wearing the uniforms of the Azerbaijan Border Security Service in some cases. The Kommersant reports also details claims made of involvement by the Turkish armed forces. It states that roughly 600 Turkish troops are currently in Azerbaijan. This includes a 200-man battalion tactical group, 120 flight personnel, 20 drone operators, and rest being instructors and advisors. This coincides with a claim made by the Armenian government that a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down an Armenian Su-25 fighter on September 29th. Additionally, photos on social media have shown that a Russian volunteer was killed while serving with Azeri forces and at least two Lebanese men (likely ethnic Armenians) have volunteered to serve with Armenia; at least one of those men were killed in action. Rumors have claimed that ethnic Yazidi militias from Iraq have journeyed to Armenia to join the fight, but I could not verify those claims. At this time both Armenia and Azerbaijan officially deny any involvement of foreign fighters; and Turkey has denied any and all involvement in the conflict.

As of October 18th at 23:00 local time, it appears that Azeri forces had moved the front line about 20-25km into Nagorno-Karabakh at two separate points, one in the north and one in the south. At the same time, Azeri armored vehicles were reported as far as 19km west of Jabrayil, an abandoned city that was captured on October 9th. Azeri forces have captured multiple cities and numerous villages, including Fuzuli on October 17th and Zanglin on the 18th. Armenia has taken heavy losses among its armored forces and its fire support infrastructure (i.e. rocket artillery and howitzers). Many of these losses were inflicted by Azeri unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). Armenia still faces a big threat from Azeri UCAVs, which is exacerbated by the failure of units to maintain proper dispersion both on and off the frontline.  

On October 10th, representatives of both nations traveled to Russia to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. By the end of the meeting, a ceasefire was agreed upon that began at midnight of the following day. The ceasefire was almost immediately broken by both sides and fighting continued. Another ceasefire was agreed upon and went into effect at midnight on October 18th. According to the Armenian government, that ceasefire was violated after four minutes by Azeri forces shelling civilian targets. At this moment heavy fighting is ongoing and it seems that the focus of the fighting has been on the southern front.  

The conflict has occasionally spilled over into neighboring Iran with artillery shells and rockets destroying homes and injuring some civilians. Iranian Border Guard Commander Qasem Rezaei has deployed his forces on the border to monitor the fighting. Both sides have committed war crimes. This includes the targeting of cities in Armenia and Azerbaijan by artillery and air power. Additionally, a video was released of two Azeri officers beheading two Armenian prisoners of war (POW). Those officers were allegedly assigned to the 701st Motorized Rifle Brigade and were killed in combat shortly after that incident. Another video was released showing an Armenian soldier using the butt of his rifle to bash the head of an Azeri soldier. It’s unclear if the latter was killed before the filming of the video. At this time, Armenia has announced that 772 servicemen have been killed in action; while Azerbaijan claims the number is actually 2,300 killed or wounded. Azerbaijan has still not acknowledged any losses among its forces; while Armenia claims that 6,309 servicemen and mercenaries have been killed. Judging by the evidence of Azeri deaths posted on social media and other internet sources it’s safe to say that Azeri KIAs are at least in the hundreds and foreign KIAs are at least in the few dozens. Additionally, sources claim that at least 61 Azeri civilians and 40 Armenian civilians have been killed. The fighting shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. 

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