By Grigor Hakobyan
The defeat of the Artsakh Defense Army during the Forty Four Day War surprised the majority of Armenians around the world. Significant territorial and human losses were shocking not only to the people residing in the Republic of Armenia but also in the diaspora. The whole media coverage of the war both in Armenia and diaspora was primarily based on the official narrative created by Armenia’s MoD which claimed that the Armenian side was winning the war and that it was planning to go into a counteroffensive soon. Although the Armed Forces of Armenia have been acquiring offensive weapons for a while and were boasting about their ability to carry out preemptive strikes at any time, they choose to do so in reality the political leadership didn’t have the will and the military leadership couldn’t sustainably wage such an offensive war. Previous claims of military superiority created a false sense of security among people residing in Artsakh, the Republic of Armenia, and diaspora which contributed to the feelings of shock and dismay that they all experienced during the aftermath of this war.
Considering that Pashinyan’s government was the one that created this false narrative misleading people of the true situation on the battlefield only to falsely blame the people of Armenia and its diaspora for not doing enough to win this war it was only a matter of time before the people of Armenia turned against the Pashinyan’s government and began to demand his resignation as the Prime Minister of Armenia. The fact that the President of Armenia and the Foreign Minister of Armenia were caught off-guard by the actions of the Prime Minister contributed to the public impression that Nikol Pashinyan was the only person responsible for this humiliating defeat, however, an analysis will indicate that various actions undertaken by the previous governments that preceded him have their share of the blame to bear also. The statement made by the President of Armenia-Armen Sarkisyan that Pashinyan should resign added more impetus to the public desire to recall Pashinyan from the post of the Prime Minister of Armenia.
It is time to analyze the many errors that became apparent during this war and come up with solutions to correct those errors. It will be impossible to list every error that was made during this war and many errors that preceded this war considering that such an effort will require a lot of time and all the findings will not fit in just one article, however at the same time it is possible to analyze a specific number of the errors made during this war and draw several reasonable conclusions on how these errors can be corrected and what should be done differently going forward to achieve different outcomes in the next stage of this greater war that is on the horizon.
The forty-four-day war was only one of the stages of a much longer war that is being waged against Armenia and the Armenian people by Turkey, Azerbaijan, and their collaborators. The first stage of the war is arguably the Armenian Genocide that took place from 1915-1923 which resulted in the extermination of the Armenian nation in the center of its historical homeland by Turkey and at its extremities by pre-Caspian Tatars (later known as Azerbaijanis). Armenian massacres in Baku, Sumgait, Shahumyan Region, Kirovabad Region, and emptying of Nakhijevan from Armenians that directly led to the Armenian-Azerbaijani war of 1988-1994 constitute the second stage of this war.
Consequently, the third stage of this war was the Four Day War of 2016 where many war crimes against Armenian soldiers and civilians were committed in Artsakh by Azerbaijani-Turkish special forces and ISIS-linked terrorists. The fourth stage of this war may become known as the Forty-Four Day War of 2020 which resulted in the collapse of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Artsakh and the introduction of Russian peacekeepers and regular Turkish troops into the region. Unfortunately, this is not the end of the long war being waged against the Armenian nation and the Armenian state despite the unsubstantiated optimism of incompetent government officials expecting to engage in open trade relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The next stage of this ongoing war will affect not only what is left of Artsakh but also other parts of the Republic of Armenia. The direction of the next attack may not be limited to the eastern direction only. The next attack or a combination of multi-prong attacks against Armenia may come from any direction, including the western direction and/or northern direction of Armenia. What many fail to realize is that the entire territory of the Republic of Armenia is going to become a battleground. The only way for Armenia to survive is to become stronger than any of its neighbors not only militarily but also politically and economically.
Many holes in the Armenian narrative of the war began to be very visible during the third week of the war if not sooner where Armenia’s MoD could not provide any photo or video evidence to support its claims that the Armenian forces were winning the war. Claims of downing nearly three hundred Israeli and Turkish-made drones and destroying more than seven hundred units of Azerbaijani tanks and armored vehicles were largely unsubstantiated. The war footage that was played on tv screens in Armenia and abroad, in addition to many online platforms (primarily YouTube) during the third and fourth week of the war were mostly repeats of the war footage that was shown during the first two weeks of the war and despite huge amounts of aid, money and human resources that were poured into Armenia’s war effort by its diaspora and people in Armenia the tide of the war for some reason wouldn’t turn to Armenia’s favor. Despite optimistic statements made by Armenia’s MoD spokesperson the grounds for optimism weren’t there.
It was a big shock to most Armenians around the world to find out during the third week of the war that Artsakh’s Defense Army has already lost five regions in the south and was continuing to lose more. The nail in the coffin of Armenia’s war efforts was struck by the loss of Shushi and the humiliating declaration of the ceasefire signed by Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan on November 9th. As a result of this declaration only about 3100 sq. km from the previous 12,000 sq. km of territory constituting the Republic of Artsakh was left intact. The loss of Shushi despite fierce resistance by Artsakh Defense Army and thousands of volunteers both from within Artsakh and from the Republic of Armenia and diaspora didn’t make sense to anyone with an understanding of local geography and the fighting itself, especially when the rear of the city perched on the mountaintop was being protected by highly motivated and well-equipped soldiers and volunteer fighters in the village of Karintag. They controlled the only trail leading to the mountain that the enemy soldiers were supposed to climb to get to Shushi. Considering a large number of dead enemy combatants near the village Karintag and areas around the village it is reasonable to state that access to Shushi from the rear was effectively blocked and could have not happened if the defense of Karintag village continued.
The city of Shushi is positioned on a high mountaintop with only two ways to access it. One from the front of the city, from the side of the road that also leads to Stepanakert, and the other access point is from the back of the city where any attacking army must climb the mountain (over 4000 ft elevation) while getting shot at from positions above. The top of the mountain is relatively flat and is covered with grassy meadows and light density forest. As such, breaking into the city from the back was a very difficult fit for anyone to master, and in case of sufficient and well-organized defenses, it was nearly an impossible fit for the enemy to accomplish. Advancing into the city from the front was also very difficult for the enemy to accomplish considering the local geography where only one road led to the city. This only access to the city from the front made it easier for the defenders of the city to keep the enemy at bay through a mix of machine-gun fire, mortars and RPG fire, and use of other military techniques and munitions. Nonetheless, Shushi fell to the advancing Azerbaijani-Turkish troops and their collaborators-ISIS-linked terrorists from Syria, Libya, and other turbulent regions of the world. The loss of the city was difficult to explain without considering the possibility of a treason at the highest levels of government both in the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh.
Military Acquisitions Before the War
Misplaced priorities placed over the acquisition of offensive weapon systems (e.g.: Su-30 SM multirole fighter jets) at the expense of acquiring effective and modern defensive weapon systems such as anti-drone and anti-satellite electronic warfare units contributed to a rapid collapse of Artsakh’s defense capabilities within the first few weeks of the war. The defensive weapon systems that were acquired or were already present in the possession of the Artsakh Defense Army were very limited in quantity and possessed very limited capabilities. Consequently, the enemy troops were able to overcome Armenian air defenses in the south of Artsakh within the first week of war and inflict significant losses of military personnel and equipment upon the ground forces of the Artsakh Defense Army. The collapse of the southern defense perimeter allowed Azerbaijani-Turkish special forces working together with ISIS-linked terrorists from the Middle East and Central Asia to quickly penetrate the interior of Artsakh by taking over the Hadrut Region and reaching the walls of Shushi near Stepanakert, the capitol of the Republic of Artsakh.
The Battle of Shushi
Based on eyewitness accounts, the city of Shushi was simply surrendered to advancing Azerbaijani-Turkish troops after the Armenian soldiers and volunteer fighters were ordered to retreat from Karintag village and Shushi. Before the enemy soldiers reached Shushi from Hadrut Region, Artsakh Defense Army and its auxiliary forces had enough time and resources to make the city impregnatable, yet for some reason, it wasn’t done so. According to Russian military correspondents who witnessed the battles over the control of the city and shared footages of firefights taking place around the city before it was lost the defenses of Shushi were not organized in the most effective manner. Specifically, there were no minefields laid out around the city, there were no solid fortifications built within the city and around the city, and no air-defense systems such as MANPADS were detected in the hands of the soldiers and volunteers that were defending the city despite the fact that they were dangerously exposed to enemy drone attacks at any given time. Furthermore, they weren’t provided with sufficient air cover despite the fact that the Armenian Armed Forces (Republic of Armenia) were in possession of their own combat drones that could have made a difference if they were utilized in the defense of the city.
Furthermore, the urgency to defend Shushi was expressed by the president of the Republic of Artsakh during his televised address to the Armenian people at the beginning of November which the next day was surprisingly downplayed by the MoD of the Republic of Armenia via its official spokesperson in charge of daily briefings who claimed that the enemy was too far from the city and that the situation with the defenses of Shushi was not critical as the President of Artsakh has stated in his televised address the day before. To a rational observer, the apparent contradiction was another sign that the war was not going the way the Armenian people were told, however being the optimists that the Armenian people were in the middle of a very difficult war they didn’t question the contradiction hard enough to get to the bottom of the issue and went along with the official narrative as they were desperate to hear something positive about the course of the ongoing war which this contradiction clearly provided.
Many days later, the Armenians around the world woke up to the news that Shushi was lost and that the Armenian side agreed to sign a ceasefire declaration that put the end to hostilities in Artsakh. As such, one can understand why the Armenian people felt betrayed and manipulated by false information that was given to them on a daily basis not only in regards to the true situation in and around Shushi but also the whole war itself. Being lied to and manipulated for forty-four days insulted the dignity of the Armenian people generating the blowback that the Pashinyan administration is experiencing today while the majority of people feel disillusioned by what happened and mistrustful of the government. As such their grievances are legitimate and must be addressed, the sooner the better. Furthermore, Armenia’s MoD is indebted to Armenian people around the world to restore its credibility and provide effective security guarantees to Armenia’s inhabitants.
After the ceasefire declaration of November 9<sup>th,</sup> dead bodies of more than 2,000 enemy troops were found in the vicinity of Shushi and dead bodies of more than 200 Armenians soldiers and volunteer fighters were brought out from the city and taken to Stepanakert for burial. The fall of Shushi, which overlooks Stepanakert due to its elevated position, was very devastating to the morale of the Armenian people and Artsakh’s military. The fall of Shushi exposed the capital of Stepanakert to further Azerbaijani-Turkish aggression and put the effectiveness of defending Stepanakert into question. Considering that the majority of Armenians who didn’t leave Artsakh earlier were taking cover in Stepanakert one could only imagine what would have happened if Azerbaijani-Turkish troops managed to enter Stepanakert the next day after the fall of Shushi.
Many ardent supports of Pashinyan and his government use the abovementioned scenario as a justification for the actions undertaken by Pashinyan to stop the war in Artsakh, however, it doesn’t stand closer scrutiny because if the defense of Shushi was organized in a more effective manner the city of Shushi would have not been lost. The loss of Shushi due to insufficient preparation of its defenses begs the question of why it wasn’t done so. After all, the Armenian side had enough time and resources to prepare the city’s defenses not only during the war when it first started but also before the war started, especially when both governments in the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh knew that the war was coming.
A number of analytical articles published in Armenia and diaspora in addition to a number of interviews with military and political experts in Armenia have warned both governments since 2016 that the next war was on the horizon. Intelligence received from various sources also indicated Azerbaijan was preparing for war and that Turkey was going to play a major role in this coming war. Yet to everyone’s surprise the gov’t of Pashinyan undermined its close strategic relationship with its only ally- Russia and put its hopes on the West without realizing that the West didn’t really care about Armenia’s security and that the coming war in the region was to their advantage as well.
Pashinyan’s government failed to realize that the West was hoping to undermine Russian and Iranian influences in the region and extend its own influence via its proxy-Turkey by giving the green light for the conflict to resume and for Turkey to take part. Furthermore, the West was trying to prevent China from gaining a foothold in the region as it was planning to extend its trade routes via Iran, Armenia, and Azerbaijan by circumventing Russia and gaining a direct link to Europe via Georgia. The West acted via Turkey and succeeded in reducing Iranian influence in the region at the expense of the Armenian side losing an extended border with Iran and removed Azerbaijan from Russian influence by significantly raising the influence of Turkey over Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, the war played to Russia’s advantage as well as it was able to increase its own military presence in the region by denying Armenia the opportunity to explore alternative options that would have come at Russia’s expense, specifically greater integration of Armenia with the West and deepening its ties with Iran and China. The fact that this war played to the West’s advantage is further substantiated by the deafening silence of the West in light of chemical weapons use by Azerbaijan against the Armenian troops and civilians in Artsakh and proven involvement of ISIS-linked terrorist fighters from Syria and Libya and other countries in this war.
Keeping Shushi under Armenian control would have most likely changed the tide of war by allowing the Armenian troops to regroup and prepare for launching a counter-attack to liberate the Hadrut Region, particularly at this point in time when the airspace over Artsakh was now closed by the use of Russian electronic warfare equipment which prevented Azerbaijan from continuing to freely operate its drones over Shushi and Stepanakert. Furthermore, the Republic of Armenia could have taken advantage of this situation by supplying the Republic of Artsakh with fresh troops and military hardware such as artillery pieces and trained personnel to man them.
Considering that there was such an opportunity to change the tide of war yet it wasn’t taken leads one to consider other explanations besides the main narrative about being outgunned and outnumbered. The only reasonable explanation would be that the fight over Shushi was already decided to end this way a long time before it ever happened which leads one to conclude that treason at the highest levels of government was committed both in the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh which led to the present outcomes that are endangering the security of the Republic of Armenia even further.
Additionally, questionable Russian actions in this conflict have also contributed to the de-facto demise of the Republic of Artsakh. Specifically, Russian authorities made promises to close the air over Artsakh which they were fully capable of doing, yet they didn’t do that until the Lavrov Plan (5+2) was realized on the ground. At first, they turned on their electronic warfare equipment that took down all Azerbaijani drones that were found in the Artsakh’s airspace which allowed the Armenian troops on the ground to launch a counteroffensive and recapture Shushi. Afterward, however, they turned off their equipment which allowed Azerbaijanis to regain their air superiority over Artsakh’s airspace and launch very damaging strikes against the Armenian forces on the ground until the Armenian side was forced so sign the ceasefire declaration which is, in essence, a capitulation agreement that allowed Russian peacekeepers to be deployed in Artsakh. Concurrently, the Turkish troops were given the opportunity to do the same also by entering the region and in essence annexing Azerbaijan to themselves.
Surrendering the Armenian control over Shushi was never agreed upon during the negotiation process for the past twenty-six years under the sponsorship of the OSCE Minsk Group, as such the surrender of Shushi was followed by unreasonable justifications made by Pashinyan during parliamentary session days later didn’t withstand closer scrutiny. As indicated above the Armenian side had the time and resources needed to defend the city against Azerbaijani-Turkish advance. However, it failed to do so because it had no political will to do so. Now that the negotiation process appears to be back on track there is still a chance to get Shushi back if the Armenian side manages to conduct effective negotiations by attracting the support of all Minsk Group chairmen represented by the United States, France, and Russia to its side. Armenian people lost a battle but not a war. The war is still on, it hasn’t ended yet. The format of the war has changed but not the intentions of Turkey and Azerbaijan. As long as Turkey and Azerbaijan continue to pursue expansionist policies in the region Armenian people will not be in peace. This battle will be followed by another battle and so on until one of the sides eventually wins this war and solidifies its final victory over another.
The ceasefire declaration signed by Pashinyan, Aliyev, and Putin cannot be considered a legally binding agreement because it is not an agreement but a declaration of a ceasefire. In general, declarations do not have any binding legal power. According to Armenia’s Constitution for an agreement to take effect and become legally enforceable the Parliament of Armenia must ratify it first and the President of Armenia must sign it into law for the agreement to take effect. In this case, the parliament was notified about it however it wasn’t ratified by it, and the President of Armenia didn’t sign it. As such, the ceasefire declaration doesn’t have any binding legal power and is sustained only by the enforcement of Russian will upon the sides of the declaration and the presence of Russian peacekeepers on the ground.
This is probably the most bizarre aspect of the forty-four-day war where the ceasefire agreement was titled as “ceasefire declaration” to circumvent Armenia’s constitutional protocols and was signed by the PM without prior knowledge of Armenia’s President and the Foreign Minister, and without being an international treaty to be ratified by Armenia’s Parliament. Given the situation leads one to conclude that the Prime Minister of Armenia has usurped the power of the Parliament and the President in violation of Armenia’s Constitution and therefore he must resign. Concurrently, Armenia’s Constitutional Court must begin proceedings against the Prime Minister on the basis of usurpation of power in violation of Armenia’s Constitution. Furthermore, Nikol Pashinyan didn’t have the mandate of the people of Artsakh to sign this ceasefire declaration without their consent and the legal jurisdiction that he had in the Republic of Armenia didn’t extend to the territory of the Republic of Artsakh. In essence, the actions undertaken by Nikol Pashinyan contributed to the aggression against the Republic of Artsakh and its eventual de-facto demise as a sovereign entity albeit unrecognized by anyone.
Conclusion and Recommendations:
This war was an eye-opener to the real situation of Armenian statehood and its armed forces. Twenty-nine years of statehood, despite achieving progress in democracy building, didn’t help Armenia win this war and there are many reasons for this outcome. Probably the first reason for failure was a gross underestimation of the enemy’s military capabilities and an overestimation of Armenia’s own defense capacity. The same problem was identified during the Four Day War in 2016 but evidently, nothing was done to correct it. Instead of preparing for the twenty-first-century war known as a “fifth-generation war”-which implies heavy use of semi-autonomous weapon systems such as UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) also known as drones, the political leadership of Armenia was preparing its military for the twentieth-century war that it won back in 1994. Failure to keep up with the latest developments in modern warfare and failure to reform Armenia’s military to bring it up to standards and expectations of the twenty-first century led to the present outcome.
Second, mismanagement of scarce financial resources allocated for defense planning and wrong priorities contributed to this defeat as well. Specifically, the emphasis was placed on acquiring a dozen multi-role, cutting edge fighter jets (Su-30SM) despite not having sufficiently trained personnel to operate and maintain them. Instead, that money could have been spent on acquiring hundreds of reusable combat drones from China for example, which are capable of dropping bombs and firing rockets. Being in possession of such weapon systems could have brought the war to a draw instead of suffering a humiliating defeat. Having UGVs in its possession instead of traditional tanks and APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers) could have reduced the number of Armenian casualties on the battlefield. Furthermore, having a sufficient number of mobile air-defense systems (MANPADS) and trained operators could have significantly reduced the threats of combat drones that were widely utilized by Azerbaijani-Turkish armed forces during this war.
Third, military planning was off as well. Specifically, only a partial mobilization was announced instead of full mobilization, and not all volunteer fighters were allowed to go to the frontline despite the fact that more manpower was needed than what was deployed for the duration of the war. Furthermore, Armenia’s Armed Forces were not allowed to take part in the war as a result of which the burden of war was placed on the shoulders of poorly trained and poorly equipped volunteer detachments and Artsakh’s Defense Army which was not big enough and was not well equipped enough to fight on its own against the combined armies of Azerbaijan and Turkey at the same time. Furthermore, false propaganda carried out for the duration of the war had contributed to the lack of urgency in the minds of many Armenian people who didn’t realize how bad the situation was and why painful compromises were needed. For the last twenty-six years, they were told that Armenia’s military was the strongest in the region and that they were winning the war only to find out one day that Artsakh has suddenly surrendered and that Pashinyan was signing what was in essence Artsakh’s capitulation without attaining any legal status in return.
Fourth, there were a number of opportunities for Pashinyan to stop the war earlier thus saving thousands of lives that were lost later on, yet due to his miscalculations, the opportunities were lost. Specifically, the Prime Minister was informed by the Chief of General Staff after a week of fighting that Armenian forces were outgunned and outnumbered and that the only way to change the tide of the war was to carry out profound strikes against the enemy that would have inflicted significant damages upon the enemy’s forces and its capabilities yet he refused to do so. Considering that Pashinyan was not ready to take such a step to change the tide of the war the outcome of the war was already foreseen. This was the right time to stop the war yet he didn’t. The war went on by taking additional lives of Armenian soldiers and volunteer fighters in the process. The defense capabilities of Artsakh’s Defense Army were further degraded as the Republic of Armenia failed to provide them with a sufficient number of new military hardware to replace the ones that were lost on the battlefield.
Pashinyan’s second opportunity to stop the war was given by Putin sometime in mid-October who told him that if he doesn’t agree to stop the war and settle with losses at that given time the situation was only going to get worse later on, yet he refused to listen. Armenia’s only ally, in essence, conveyed to him that Russia was not going to get involved in this war despite the fact that Artsakh was fighting not only against Azerbaijan but Turkey as well along with its proxies from the Middle East. The failure to see clearly and evaluate the situation correctly at a time when it was most needed can reasonably be attributed to his own personal ego and lack of foresight, refusal to listen and make correct decisions under high pressure which led to the known outcome. While Azerbaijan spent twenty-six years preparing for this war the Armenian side was relying on the benevolence of foreign powers to maintain its own security which probably was one of the biggest blunders of not only the Pashinyan’s government but also those who preceded him.
Failure to efficiently manage resources at hand and failure to return large financial resources taken abroad via criminal means by his predecessors have contributed to insufficient readiness of Armenia’s Armed Forces and Artsakh’s Defense Army to successfully fight the war that was a long time coming. The lack of significant reforms within the Armenian military after the Four Day War of 2016 has also played a role in the defeat of the Armenian side at this stage of the conflict. Misreading of the geopolitical context and wrong analysis of regional and global trends affecting Armenia left the political and military leaderships of Armenia and Artsakh unprepared for this war. Alienating its only military ally and failing to gain new ones in the process were no less significant factors that contributed to Armenian defeat in Artsakh. Failure to develop effective multi-vector foreign policy and attainment of security guarantees from additional regional and global powers have further contributed to Armenia’s defeat in Artsakh.
In the end, not everything is lost. Armenians are given another chance to reflect and reevaluate everything they did before, make the necessary corrections, and rebuild Armenia and its military anew. Military reforms that are needed to be carried out must include the militarization of its populace and the development of large active reserve forces and effective auxiliary forces to be able to face new challenges on the horizon. However, for that to happen the present government must resign, new elections must be held and a new government with no connections to the previous governments or the present government must be formed. Armenia’s constitution must be amended to create the much-needed checks and balances between different branches of the government. Furthermore, the education system in Armenia along with other sectors of the economy, and local and state government must be deeply reformed. People with much-needed knowledge, skills, and experience to contribute to Armenia’s development and strengthening must be invited to Armenia to contribute while corruption and kleptocracy that has taken over Armenia’s government for the past twenty-nine years must be rooted out at any cost.