By Grigor Hakobyan
Recent revelations by Bulgarian newspaper (Trud) of connections between Aliyev’s regime and the state-run Silk Way Airlines accused of shipping weapons and ammunition to various terrorist groups in the Middle East under diplomatic cover were hurriedly pushed under the rug by Azerbaijan’s MOD announcement and video footage of newly acquired military hardware from Russia, followed by its regular war rhetoric to take back Artsakh through military means. Similar tactics were utilized by Azerbajiani media last year, preceding the Four Day War in April of 2016 when international media was awash with revelations about billions of dollars’ worth of offshore accounts held by a number of foreign leaders, including Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev.
The revelations energized the Azerbaijani opposition to hold rallies in Baku demanding Aliyev’s resignation as the head of state. To redirect public attention both inside the country and abroad Aliyev’s regime, never tired of speaking about exterminating the Armenians and taking over all of Armenia, launched an unexpected war in Artsakh. Unable to do the same this time around, the regime’s PR machine went into overdrive to advertise the delivery of Russian weapons, criticize the international community and the Minsk Group co-chairs for failing to resolve the conflict through diplomatic means and threatening to take matters into their own hands once again through means of war. However, despite the warmongering and showing off the latest weapons in its arsenal, the Aliyev regime has run the course of its usefulness and nearing its end.
In the past few months Azerbaijan received large amounts of military hardware from a number of countries, including Russia, Turkey, Israel and Pakistan. At the end of June hundreds of new tanks and armored vehicles (T-90 and BTR-80A), Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS “Smerch” and TOS-1A), Self-Propelled Howitzers (Msta-S), anti-tank systems (Khrizantema-S) and other hardware, reportedly part of a $5 billion contract signed with Russia a few years ago, arrived in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister gloated how the military is now stronger than before and made no secret that the new military hardware will be sent to the Line of Contact (LOC) in Artsakh to be used during the next round of military escalation. Constant armament purchases and never ending war rhetoric from Aliyev’s regime has strained the situation along the Line of Contact once again where frequent flare-ups between the opposing sides and shelling continue unabated ever more frequently. As a consequence, dozens of soldiers from both sides have been killed or wounded in the past few months.
Recently, a Bulgarian newspaper Trud ran an explosive report by investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, linking the Aliyev regime with Azerbaijan’s state-run Silk Way Airlines that has reportedly shipped a large amount of weapons and ammunition to various terrorist groups in the Middle East while under cover of diplomatic immunity. The reporter alleged to be in possession of secret documents leaked by anonymous sources proving that 350 flights made by the Silk Way Airlines in the past three years carried weapons and ammunition to terrorist groups in Syria, Libya, Yemen and other hot spots throughout Africa and Asia. A revelation of this kind in any other country of the world would have brought down the ruling elite or caused for the West to impose economic sanctions against the offending regime, but not in Azerbaijan where Aliyev’s dictatorship has total control over its population, and not against Baku where global players spent billions of dollars in developing energy infrastructure and cross continental communication networks for ferrying goods and services between Europe and Asia.
Many political analysts engage in numerical comparisons of military personnel and hardware of opposing sides to imply or argue over which side is more likely to defeat the other in a war. However, they miss one important point that is of greater value than the number of weapons or troops in possession of one country over another, and that is the cause for which its soldiers are fighting and dying for if needed. For Azerbaijan’s leadership the war in Artsakh is the most effective way to distract their population from internal problems facing Azerbaijan, such as economic malice due to the devaluating domestic currency, the Manat, declining oil reserves and low oil prices, corruption undermining state institutions, the leadership’s support for terrorist organizations in the Middle East, and brutal dictatorship based on suppressing basic freedoms of its citizens, closing down and harassment of popular democratic institutions such as NGOs and free press.
Furthermore, Azerbaijan’s military hasn’t yet recovered from its humiliation for losing control over the historically Armenian province which, despite its small size, fought fiercely for its independence and defeated numerically superior Azerbaijani forces in the war of liberation from 1988-1994 and during the Four Day War in April of 2016. Despite enjoying military superiority over Armenia in 2016, Azerbaijani forces aided by Turkish Special Forces, Israeli military advisers, and religious zealots from ISIS, failed to achieve major advances against 18 and 19 year old Armenian conscripts who fought them off with older soviet weapons, knives, shovels and corkscrews in multiple close quarter combat situations. Some even chose to take their own lives along with Azerbaijani commandos’ rather than give themselves up to captivity or beg for mercy.
As explained above, for the Armenian side, it is a matter of necessity to stand against Azerbaijani military aggression and make every effort to preserve Artsakh, which in addition to its historical and cultural significance to Armenians presents itself as a strategic deterrent against Azerbaijani expansionism. Failure is not an option. As the war of 2016 has shown, Azerbaijan will never miss an opportunity to attack Armenians with the intent of exterminating them if it feels that it can get away with it with little or no consequences. The Armenian soldiers who had the misfortune of being taken captive while wounded in the war of April 2016 suffered unimaginable torture and abuse. Their corpses returned home dismembered and mutilated, some were even missing heads and other body parts yet no attempts were made by the international community to bring those responsible to trial for war crimes. Therefore, the next round of war will not be the same as previous. The Armenian forces will carry out their counteroffensive and put the last nail in the coffin of Aliyev’s regime.
Unquestionably, the beginning of a new war will be the beginning of the end for Aliyev’s regime in Baku and possibly even the beginning of the collapse of the Azerbaijani state. Given that the distance between the center of Yerevan and the closest Azerbaijani positions along the Line of Contact in Artsakh is less than 200 km, while the distance between Yerevan and the closest Azerbaijani military positions in Nakhichevan is less than 100 km, Armenia has no other choice but to take Azerbaijani threats seriously and spare no efforts to neutralize them by carrying out a series of preemptive strikes to destroy newly acquired Azerbaijani military hardware before they manage to reach the battlefield.
Almost no week goes by without having some high-ranking Azerbaijani official, including the Azerbaijani president, or defense minister, making threats to exterminate all Armenians not only in Armenia but also in the diaspora. They make no secret of their desire to conquer other regions of Armenia such as Zangezur and even the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. In light of these threats standing up to Azerbaijani aggression is a matter of survival for Armenia and the Armenian people. Given that the same war rhetoric and armament acquisition by Azerbaijan continue, the likelihood of another war cannot be ruled out. As a matter of fact, it is not even a question of whether the war will resume but when it will resume. Therefore, in light of constant Russian supplies of offensive military hardware to Azerbaijan, Armenia’s leadership should reevaluate its military, economic and political dependence on Russia, reconsider its non-nuclear status and seek greater political, military and economic engagement with other regional and global actors such as Iran, India, China, E.U. and the U.S. that can help Armenia to enhance its security and improve its economy.