Azerbaijan’s military success leaves Armenians clashing with one another

Western Standard Online
Nov 17 2020


YEREVAN, Armenia — The tables turned on Armenians dramatically overnight as Monday, Nov. 9 faded into Tuesday, Nov. 10. Armenians went from being at war with archenemy Azerbaijan to engaged in a domestic conflict with one another. 

Azerbaijan had just shot down a Russian helicopter in southern Armenia near the border with the Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan. The downing of the chopper would surely anger Moscow, and it could be the moment in which Russia, which has a military alliance with Armenia, would finally come to the aid of its ally fighting a month and a half-long war with Azerbaijan. 

But it was not meant to be for Armenia. A ceasefire deal that would bring an end to the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war was essentially in place. Rather than reacting the way it did when Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane over Turkey’s border with Syria in 2015, Moscow quietly accepted an apology from Azerbaijan and pressed on with the deal it brokered to bring an end to the war. 

Shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced in a Facebook post Armenia had reached a Russian-brokered truce with Azerbaijan. Pashinyan called the agreement painful. Enraged Armenians called Pashinyan a traitor for agreeing to the truce. 

Then in the middle of the night, protesters stormed the Armenian parliament, trashed Pashinyan’s office and violently beat the parliament’s speaker. 

Protests have continued in Yerevan over the past week, with demonstrators demanding Pashinyan’s resignation. Now, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian is also calling for Pashinyan to resign and for new parliamentary elections to be held.

The violence has subsided, though some members of the opposition have been arrested and finger-pointing continues. The mood in Armenia is both angry and somber.

During a protest in Yerevan on Wednesday, a grieving mother stood with a photo of her son and described receiving the news he had died in the war. 

“At 11 we set the table. Then between 3 a.m. until 7 a.m. the firing started. My husband was in tears saying, ‘the kid is gone; he was killed,’” the mother said.

The woman said she does not know whether Pashinyan, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) President Arayik Harutyunyan or someone else is to blame for her son’s death.

“Some say it’s Nikol; others say it’s someone else. Arayik called on us to fight. My son went to war. He went as a volunteer,” the grieving mother said. 

Everyone has an opinion as to who is responsible for his death, the woman said. 

While many Armenian parents are coping with the loss of their sons, many Armenian families are, too, dealing with the loss of their homes. The defeat on the battlefield translates into a loss of territory for ethnic Armenians. 

Azerbaijan is reclaiming control of several districts within its internationally-recognized borders that had been controlled by Armenians since the conclusion of the first Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1994. Russian peacekeeping troops have already arrived to enforce the terms of the truce, which include Armenia allowing the construction of a corridor through its territory that will connect Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan proper. A new road is also expected to be built through an existing corridor to ensure the continued connection between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. 

With the process of handing over territories to Azerbaijan underway, many Armenians have resorted to burning down their own homes to prevent Azeris from living in them. Additionally, Armenians have been saying final goodbyes to treasured cultural sights, like monasteries. 

Forward Russian operating base. Photo by Josh Friedman

The military victory for Azerbaijan is largely seen as a successful embrace of modern warfare. Azerbaijan’s use of Turkish and Israeli-built drones contributed significantly to the destruction of Armenian military equipment and the wearing down of Armenia’s defenses over the 44 days of fighting. 

With the war ongoing, the Western Standard was shown an area in Armenia proper where clashes had taken place. Near a road leading to Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian soldier boasted of shooting down a drone with his gun. However, two destroyed Scud missiles and missile launchers were seen lying in the area. Azeri forces had reportedly taken them out with drones. The sight was a sign of the direction the war was headed.

Despite Azerbaijan’s territorial advances over several weeks, Armenia’s government remained tight-lipped about the faltering of ethnic Armenian forces until the very end of the war. The subsequent shock among Armenians added to the anger and frustration at the announcement of the ceasefire deal.

Before the announcement of the ceasefire, Azeri forces had taken control of the crucial and historic city of Shusha, or Shushi in Armenia. Azerbaijan could then have mounted an offensive on the nearby and exposed de facto capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, from which thousands of Armenian civilians were fleeing. Additionally, Azeri forces could have attempted to take the Lachin Corridor, known as being the supply line between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. But Armenian military officials advised Pashinyan to stop the bloodshed and accept the truce, which he did. 

The 44-day war killed a total of more than 2,300 Armenian servicemen. Azerbaijan did not release its military casualties, though an estimate given by Russian President Vladimir Putin placed the total at more than 2,000. Additionally, several dozen Azeri and Armenian civilians died in the war. For Armenia, a country of just 3 million people, the losses were viewed as very high. 

During the war, Azerbaijan enjoyed the strong backing of its ally Turkey, while Russia refrained from playing an active role in supporting Armenia. Many Armenians felt let down by Russia. 

Now Armenia must confront itself. The country had been transitioning to a more open, western-style system of government under Pashinyan, who came to power following a revolution he led in 2018. Russia now appears to have punished Armenia for its political transition of the past two years. 

So after suffering military defeat, will Armenia continue on its path of democratization, economic reform and rooting out corruption, or might that become yet another casualty of the war? For Armenia, what was a war with a neighbor or neighbors has turned into an internal struggle over the direction of the country.

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