By Grigor Hakobyan
In a speech to the ruling party New Azerbaijan on February 6th, in addition to claiming the Republic of Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan, Aliyev made territorial claims against the Republic of Armenia. He specifically singled out Armenia’s capitol Yerevan, Lake Sevan and the Syunik province (also known as Zangezoor). Aliyev stated: “Because Yerevan is our historic land, and we should return to this historic land of Azerbaijanis. This is our political and strategic goal.” Aliyev’s revanchist remarks were dismissed by most Armenian politicians, analysts and media outlets while Minsk Group co-chairs: USA, Russia and France offered very weak condemnations or no response at all. Very few in Armenia or diaspora seriously considered the implications of Aliyev’s comments that are no doubt a warning of a looming confrontation that will resemble the war of 1988-1994 with more devastation than before. This analysis is meant to close that gap and prepare the Armenians around the world and the world community at large for the events to come.
Since the failed blitzkrieg of 2016 that became to be known as a Four Day War in Armenia and diaspora, Azerbaijani leadership continued to threaten the security of Armenian republics not only through political statements both at home and abroad, but also through fast phase acquisition of ever more devastating modern weaponry such as new T-90 tanks and BTR-80A/82A (APCs), additional quantities of TOS-1/A (thermobaric rocket launchers) and others. Acquisitions of modern weapons were not limited to Russian made tanks, artillery systems and air-defense systems only, military products of other countries such as Turkey, Israel, Pakistan, South African Republic and Czech Republic (Dana self-propelled howitzers and RM-70 multiple-launch rocket systems) made the cut as well.
Pumped up with new weapons and large military budget, in light of apparent indifference on behalf of the international community, Azerbaijan unexpectedly launched its blitzkrieg against the Armenian positions along the entire LoC in Artsakh on April 1/2. It carried out combat actions and war atrocities against Armenian civilians in the battlefield until April 6th self-imposed ceasefire, when its military began to suffer significant losses under Armenian counter-offensive that managed to drive Azerbaijani troops back to its previous positions and reclaim more than a dozen of previously held Armenian positions that were lost in the first few days of the war. The appearance of Armenian short-range ballistic missile systems in Artsakh (Scud-B and Iskander-E) deterred Azerbaijani military from pressing on with its offensive while large number of casualties and panic overcame its infantry that turned its tail and ran away from the battlefield.
In light of failed Azerbaijani blitzkrieg in 2016 and recent military drills conducted in Azerbaijan (particularly in Nakhijevan) in the summer 2017 in conjunction with the Turkish military, it is most probable to anticipate the next round of aggression to come from three different directions: Aran (bordering Askeran and Martuni regions of Artsakh), Nakhijevan (bordering Ararat, Vayots Dzor and Syunik provinces of Armenia) and Ganja/Gazakh (bordering Tavush province of Armenia). Just like in 2016 it is realistic to expect Azerbaijani forces to utilize various pro-Turkish militias from Syria, hundreds of Turkish military “advisers” and ultra-nationalists known as “gray wolves” in concert with Azerbaijani special forces at the forefront of attacking formations. In the presence of vary capable air-defense systems in possession of Armenian armed forces, use of combat aircrafts and helicopters by Azerbaijan will be limited in nature. Meanwhile, “Kamikaze” drones and other attack drones will make an exception due to their low cost and expendability. Most likely they will be used first or in conjunction with the barrage of rocket artillery against the Armenian positions.
Considering that Armenian positions along LoC in all three directions are very well fortified and surrounded by minefields it is most likely that the first round of attack will be carried out by long range artillery systems utilizing BM-21 (Grad), BM-30 (Smerch), T-122 (Sakarya-Turkish), RM-70 (Vampire-Czech), and LAR-160 (Lynx-Israel) and EXTRA (Extended Range Artillery-Israel) and long range canons such as Atmos 2000 (Israel), 2S7 Pion (USSR/Russia), 2S3 Akatsiya (USSR/Russia), 2S1 Gvozdika (USSR/Russia), D-22, D-30 and other cannons. At closer ranges, TOS-1/A thermobaric rocket systems will be utilized as well. The sappers will be tasked with demining fields leading to Armenian positions while artillery carrys out its bombardment. Soon afterwards, infantry attack supported by tank formations (T-90 and T-72) and armored vehicles (BTR-80A/82A, BMP-2/3, ) under cover of mortar fire from 2S31 Vena (Russia), 2S9 Nona (USSR/Russia), Cardom (Hatchet-Israel), MO-120 RT-61 (France) and others will follow.
Among all directions of attack described above the most threatening to Armenian security will present the LoC along the border with Nakhijevan. Presently Azerbaijan has stationed over 20,000 troops and hundreds of pieces of military hardware, including combat aircrafts and mobile artillery units such as Russian made Smerch and Turkish made T-300 Kasirga, and T-122 Sakarya multiple-launch rocket systems which are fully capable of reaching Yerevan and other densely populated towns and villages in the Republic of Armenia. The presence of such a large number of Azerbaijani-Turkish troops and military hardware in Nakhijevan threatens Armenian transportation routs of strategic significance such as the Yerevan-Stepanakert road artery and present North-South highway connecting Armenia to Iran via Meghri border checkpoint. The Azerbaijani contingent is also equipped with S-300 (Favorit) air defense systems and combat aircrafts such as Su-24 (Fencer), Su-25 (Grach) and Mi-24 (Hind) helicopters.
Considering the experience of Four Day War in April of 2016, Armenian forces will most likely engage in all-perimeter defense followed by a counter offensive on all its flanks. However, if they continue to remain in the same positions as before a third round of an all-out war is guaranteed to occur in another few years. Therefore, it will be only prudent for the Armenian armed forces to carry out preemptive strikes against large concentrations of Azerbaijani military personnel and hardware deep into the enemy’s territory by devastating all Azerbaijani military installations between the present LoC up to the Kur river in the direction of Azerbaijani Aran and Ganja/Gazakh provinces before Azerbaijan launches its attack against the republics of Armenia and Artsakh. Furthermore, taking out some strategic installations in Azerbaijan, such as oil/gas drilling platforms, pipelines and railroads leading to Turkey may be necessary to stop the war early.
In the meantime, a special attention needs to be given to Nakhijevan direction where the most of the threat is coming from. Specifically, all Azerbaijani military installations in Nakhijevan need to be neutralized while its military contingent totally decimated and liquidated. Furthermore, Armenian armed forces should enter Nakhijevan and liberate the province from the Aliyev’s rule in Baku. Subsequently, its remaining residents should be given Armenian residency and citizenship status, and offered the same legal protections as all other ethnic minorities residing in Armenia. There are other factors such as Russia, Turkey and the International Community (US/EU/NATO/UN, etc.) and the actions of Armenian diaspora that weren’t taken into consideration for this analysis to avoid a lengthy article. However, those hefty factors cannot be excluded from the resolution of this conflict and their influences upon the warring sides cannot be ignored.
Given past experiences, this new round of war may not last longer than six months, if not fewer, considering the amount of damage that can be inflicted by both sides against each other in a very short period of time. In the meantime, additional steps need to be undertaken to end the rule of a warmongering regime in Baku that will result in the toppling of the Aliyev’s regime in Azerbaijan and the coming to power of a democratically elected government that will find trading with Armenian states and peacefully living with them side-by-side more beneficent than violent confrontation and xenophobia sickening every layer of Azerbaijani society from kindergarten to higher echelons of power. Aliyev’s regime has created false illusions of a short and victorious war against Armenians that cannot ever happen. No amount of black caviar, Oil or gas in Azerbaijan will be able to save Aliyev’s regime from a prison cell somewhere in Baku or Apsheron Peninsula.