By Grigor Hakobyan
Since April of 2018, under the guise of conducting military exercises Azerbaijan has accumulated a very large number of military personnel and hardware on two different fronts surrounding the Armenian heartland thus posing a clear and present danger to the survival of the Armenian nation and the security of its statehood. Accumulations of military personnel and hardware along both LOCs in Nakhijevan and Artsakh has been accompanied with rapid acquisitions of new military hardware from a number of countries such Israel, Turkey, Pakistan and so-called military “allies” of Armenia, members of CSTO: Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. As the experience of the Four Day War has shown, instead of waiting for a devastating onslaught that can happen at any moment, the security situation on the ground is calling for a proactive defense strategy. Proactive defense entails carrying out a number of devastating preemptive strikes against Azerbaijani military accumulations along the borders of Armenia (Nakhichevan) and Artsakh to effectively degrade and destroy their military capabilities in an effort to prevent or postpone the resumption of large scale Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in the region.
One of the frontlines stretches along the entire Line of Contact (LOC) with the Republic of Artsakh and the other one stretches along the entire LOC with the Republic of Armenia from Nakhijevan (an Azerbaijani populated exclave surrounded by Armenian provinces of Vayots Dzor, Ararat and Syunik). According to various reports found in Armenian media the number of military personnel and various military hardware concentrated on two different fronts surrounding the Armenian heartland appear to be significantly larger than the previous number of military troops and hardware utilized by Azerbaijan during the launch of its infamous Blitzkrieg in the Spring of 2016.
This time around the Azerbaijani forces surrounding the Armenian positions are different not only in the quantity of troops and hardware gathered but also in the quality of military hardware recently acquired from Russia, Belarus, Turkey, Israel, Czech Republic, France, Finland and others. The present weaponry found in the possession of Azerbaijani military is considered to be deadlier than the ones which were used during the Four Day War two years ago. Specifically, they possess higher accuracy and further firing range. Some of them such as Belorussian Polonez and Israeli LORA are capable of hitting targets at a distance of 200km-300km.
Azerbaijan’s mid-range artillery systems such as Russian BM-30 (Smerch), Israeli EXTRA and others capable of hitting targets at a distance of 90 km-150 km have been placed in Nakhijevan; less than 50 km away from Yerevan (the capital of Armenia with a population of more than one million people). Dozens of T-90 battle tanks, BTR-80A and BTR-82A armored vehicles have been added to Azerbaijani ground forces thus adding to their mobility and firepower. Meanwhile Turkish made air launched cruise missiles (SOM-B1) in possession of Azerbaijani air forces are capable of hitting targets at a distance of 250 km thus presenting a danger to Armenia’s strategic infrastructure and vital roads connecting Republic of Armenia to the Republic of Artsakh.
According to recent announcements of Azerbaijani MOD, it is planning to launch another round of military exercises between July 2-July 6 which will include twenty thousand troops, one hundred twenty tanks, more than two hundred artillery systems including various MRLS and thirty aircrafts in close proximity to the LOCs in Artsakh and Nakhijevan. Despite the official numbers announced, as prior experiences have shown, during such exercises Azerbaijan tends to utilize more military troops and hardware than it officially presents. In fact, any such exercise may be used as a cover for deploying troops and hardware for the launch of another war against republics of Armenia and Artsakh. The recent military exercise is taking place with a backdrop to a military parade in Azerbaijan last week, where president Aliyev engaged in a tirade of war rhetoric and made threats to the security of both Armenian republics.
The coming war in all likelihood will occur across both Lines of Contact, one in Artsakh and another one in Nakhichevan autonomous region. Under such scenario most populated towns and villages of the Republic of Armenia including Yerevan, the capital of Armenia will become a target for Azerbaijani rocket-artillery forces. Large scale movements of Azerbaijani infantry and tank formations across Ararat valley in an attempt to cut Yerevan-Goris-Stepanakert highway passing near Yerasxavan would be part of such a scenario. Concurrently, Azerbaijan will most likely carry out a direct strike against Stepanakert (the capital of Artsakh with more than 60,000 inhabitants) from the direction of Akna (formerly known as Agdam). The distance between Akna and Stepanakert is less than thirty kilometers.
Unquestionably, such an attack from Nakhichevan will force the Armenian military to counter attack and in case of a successful offensive take over the entire province of Nakhijevan. The outcome of such a scenario will be devastating to Armenia unless Armenia decides to take preventive measures by carrying out preemptive strikes in Nakhichevan in an attempt to degrade and destroy significant quantities of Azerbaijani troops and hardware stationed there, thereby disallow Azerbaijan to launch such an attack. For Armenia it will become imperative to seal the border between Nakhichevan and Turkey to prevent incursion of Turkish troops into the province and their further advancement toward densely populated Armenian towns, including Yerevan.
If Armenian side decides to wait for Azerbaijan to attack, then defend itself and counterattack like it did during 2016 April War, Armenian armed forces will be pressured to target Azerbaijani critical infrastructure such as oil and gas pipelines, hydroelectric power plants, strategic roads and railroads to finish the war quickly and force Azerbaijan to capitulate as a way of ending such a war. Just the destruction of Mingechaur dam will cause enough flooding to cover nearly a quarter of Azerbaijan’s territory that is in close proximity to the Kur River. The flooding will cut off Azerbaijani military installations to the west of Kur River from their mainland in the east of the Kur River, thus allowing the Armenian troops to destroy them all in a short period of time. In the process Armenia will suffer large casualties despite inflicting significant losses upon Azerbaijan also. Therefore, carrying out preventive measures to avoid a larger war described above will be necessary to avoid a less desirable scenario.
In the past two years, since the Four Day War, Armenian defense capabilities have significantly grown and dramatically improved. Armenian armed forces have acquired new military equipment, upgraded nearly all the military hardware that they had on hand and have further enhanced its defense lines along both LoCs circumventing the Republic of Artsakh and Armenia’s border with Nakhijevan region. As such the Armenian military is fully capable of countering any Azerbaijani military aggression and inflicting heavy losses upon them. However, the civilian population of Armenia is not sufficiently ready for another war. Very few civilians in Yerevan have seriously thought of their geographic proximity to Azerbaijani military installations in Nakhijevan which are less than fifty kilometers away from the capitol.
The country itself hasn’t done any civil defense drills or dug new bunkers for more than thirty years. Few civilians know how to use gas masks in case of a chemical attack or how to administer CPR and First Aid when called upon. Furthermore, residents of border towns and villages are not authorized to carry weapons unless they are serving in military or police forces. No network of weapon depos similar to the ones found in Switzerland has been established in border communities of Armenia. No gun-carrying culture has been effectively promulgated to the extent as it has been done in Switzerland or Israel. The civilian population of Armenia doesn’t appear to be ready for a large-scale military conflict despite the fact that it is quickly approaching and is not waiting for them to get ready.
Such developments will have a significant impact on Aliyev’s regime in Baku to the point of breaking the country apart as a result of a civil war or a military revolt that will ensue as remaining Azerbaijani troops retreat from their frontlines. Large-scale military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has the potential of pulling in other regional and extra-regional forces also, such as Turkey, U.S.A, Iran and Russia while other wars taking place not so far from the region have not yet ended (Syria, Iraq and Yemen). It is imperative for the international community to take a stand against Azerbaijani war rhetoric by applying effective diplomatic pressure together with economic sanctions to put an end to Aliyev’s warmongering and sable rattling. Failure to do so will result in significant number of civilian deaths and destruction; a regional conflagration that will be very hard to stop.