By Emil Sanamyan
Unlike the Armenian government, which continued to publish lists of the dead on its side throughout the fighting between September 27-November 10, the Azerbaijani officials refused to do so until the end of active combat. For six years prior to the 2020 war, the Ilham Aliyev regime made it illegal to publish any information on military topics, unless it was officially released and this helped lock up war-related leaks, even in social media. And if during the April 2016 war, many of the anti-Aliyev media based abroad flouted this ban and reported on Azerbaijani casualties, in 2020 media such as Berlin-based Meydan TV joined the Aliyev regime in the cover-up.
Following the war, the Azerbaijani defense ministry published a list with names and photos of 2,823 military dead and 64 missing in action. The release came shortly after the acknowledgement of at least 3,000 dead on the Armenian side, and it is unclear if the information released by Azerbaijan is complete. But judging by the course of war, in which the majority of Armenian forces were likely killed in aerial attacks, and keeping in mind that more than 500 Turkish Syrian mercenaries fighting for Azerbaijan were also reported killed, the official number from Baku seems close to reality.
Of the 2,887 names of the dead and missing, about 13 percent are officers, 36 percent are contract personnel and about half are enlisted men. Of the enlisted, the 18 to 20 years-old comprise more than 22 percent of all dead. By comparison, the 18 to 20 years-old comprise about one-third and officers less than ten percent of the 2,735 Armenian servicemen killed in combat and whose names have been published. This might reflect the margin of under-reporting by Azerbaijan, which could also be accounted for by the dead among the mercenaries. Another notable difference is that unlike the Armenian side, the Azerbaijani side did not put volunteers in combat, which is reflected in the fact that persons older than 50 years old were not reported to have been killed in combat.
While the bulk of the Azerbaijani dead are from the ground forces of the defense ministry, there are also significant numbers from the border guard, interior forces, as well as at least ten naval personnel and two pilots.
The most senior officers killed included the second in command of the 2nd and the 1st army corps, as well as the commander of the Su-25 air force squadron. Judging by the geography and timing of deaths among mid-senior level officers – 3 colonels and 26 lieutenant colonels – Azerbaijani forces suffered heaviest casualties on the first day of attack in the Mrav mountain range in northern Karabakh, as well as between September 27 and October 9 on Karabakh’s southern front, during October 10 fighting in Madagis area, as well as in individual engagements in the north of Hadrut and south of Martuni districts, and between Qubadli and Lachin.
And judging by geography and timing of deaths reported among Azerbaijan’s special forces personnel, in late September the thrust of the Turkish air force-backed attacks initially focused on the Mrav mountains in the north of Karabakh, and then, from early October shifted to the south, culminating in the fighting between Qubadli and Lachin, and around Karmir Shuka and Shushi. The latter fighting included a mix of special forces units from Azerbaijan, including interior forces and the navy, as well as Turkish-hired Syrian mercenaries.
Emil Sanamyan is a South Caucasus specialist based in Washington D.C.. He is the editor of the University of Southern California Focus on Karabakh platform.
This piece was originally published in Focus on Karabakh.