By Grigor Hakoyban
Several days ago, Azerbaijani troops invaded Armenian territory in several directions. One direction that they intruded was towards Vardenis, another one towards Djermuk, third one towards Sisian, and the fourth one towards Goris by capturing most of the Sev Lich (Black Lake) and several hilltops around the lake that overlook strategic highway going through Armenia, which connects Yerevan to Goris and Goris to Khapan. The Azerbaijani contingent that captured Sev Lich was able to intrude into Armenia’s territory three and a half kilometers deep. The contingent was made up of several hundred Azerbaijani special forces without encountering any resistance. According to Armenia’s Ministry of Defense, the roads leading to the positions occupied by Azerbaijani troops on Ishxanasar Mountain are under Armenian control, making it harder for Azerbaijan to supply its forces on the mountain top. In the meantime, according to some political observers in Armenia, two Armenian military positions also positioned near the mountain top are presently surrounded by Azerbaijani troops.
Surprisingly, the Armenian armed forces didn’t fire any shots to stop the advancement of enemy troops or make any attempt to arrest them. According to undisclosed sources within Armenia’s military, the soldiers were orders not to shoot. It is somewhat surprising that so many enemy troops were able to intrude 3.5km deep into Armenia’s territory without meeting any resistance on the part of Armenian armed forces. Furthermore, the Russian border troops stationed in Syunik Province didn’t do anything to counter the intrusion despite the fact that the Azerbaijani forces have violated not only the border of Armenia but also the border that falls under the security responsibility of the CSTO, which Armenia is a member. That leads some political observers to assert that there is a secret agreement between Armenia, Russia, and Azerbaijan, that people do not know about, which allowed Azerbaijani troops to capture the mountain top without any fighting.
The events unfolding in Syunik Province occurred right before the Azerbaijani military began large-scale exercises on its territory bordering the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh. Furthermore, a large concentration of Azerbaijani troops and military hardware has been observed on the Armenia-Nakhijevan border. Furthermore, ISIS-linked Arab terrorists numbering thousands continue to remain in the south of Artsakh. At the same time, Turkish armed forces are known to have established nearly a dozen bases in Azerbaijan (including in Nakhijevan) and areas bordering the present line of contact with Artsakh.
According to preliminary reports, Azerbaijan agreed to some compromises that include the withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops from Sev Lich by two kilometers (which means that they will continue to be 1.5km inside Armenia’s territory), while nothing was agreed upon for pulling back Azerbaijani troops from the directions of Jermuk, Vardenis, and Sisian. According to unconfirmed reports, Armenia agreed to some compromises during trilateral negotiations, which haven’t been officially made public yet. Some political observers in Armenia and diaspora suspect that Pashinyan has agreed to give a land corridor to Azerbaijan via Meghri. However, such assertions have not been confirmed or denied yet.
Sev Lich is a vital source of irrigation and drinking water for a dozen surrounding Armenian villages, and some of the water from the lake is also utilized by Goris. This border town hosts a road that connects Yerevan to Stepanakert in Artsakh. According to former Soviet maps, over seventy percent of the lake falls within the borders of the Republic of Armenia, while the remaining portion falls within Azerbaijan. As a result of the recent intrusion, the entirety of the lake fell under Azerbaijani control. Media silence observed in Armenia, where only bits and pieces of developing situation in Syunik Province are made public, have created a situation where most of Armenia’s residents are not fully aware of what is happening in the province. Independent media coverage over events taking place in Syunik is actively suppressed, while nearly a dozen of volunteer fighters who have rushed to defend Armenia’s borders have been harassed and assaulted by pro-government proxies in Syunik province.
Most of the information related to the province that is made available by public media outlets resembles former soviet propaganda where the public is presented a rosy picture and constant themes of peace with Turkey and Azerbaijan despite the fact that there is no peace treaty between the republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1994 and despite the fact that Turkish troops have taken not only an active part in the war against Armenians in Artsakh more than six months ago but also have actively led the war against the Armenians, and have rocket-bombed border towns and villages within the internationally recognized borders of Armenia for the duration of last year’s war. Despite international condemnation of Azerbaijani military intrusion into Armenia’s territory, the invading troops have not been fully withdrawn.
Surprisingly, none of the official opposition leaders who have been holding rallies against Pashinyan for the last six months have held the government accountable for the security breach in Syunik Province. Furthermore, none of the opposition parties represented in Armenia’s Parliament have made any attempts to keep the ruling government accountable, making one think that all of them are in the know and everything that is happening in Syunik Province occurs with their tacit agreement. Under given circumstances, it is reasonable to argue that there is no real political opposition in Armenia and all those rallies that were held for the past six months were nothing more but a political spectacle meant to manipulate public opinion and sway voters during upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in June.
It is noteworthy that Armenian-Russian bilateral security treaties didn’t help deter the Azerbaijani intrusion into Armenia’s territory. Furthermore, the two Russian bases located in Syunik province didn’t do anything to stop the intrusion. Instead of defending Armenia’s national border, the Pashinyan leadership chose to negotiate with Azerbaijan without making public the details of the negotiations. At this point, it is not known what was agreed upon by both sides as the information provided to the public is composed of bits and pieces that omit any details leaving Armenians around the world and those inside Armenia in the dark. If there is anything clear, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has not been resolved yet, and another war is coming soon.
All Armenians around the world need to prepare for another round of escalation in the region. There is a reasonable possibility that the war may break out before the parliamentary elections in Armenia to cause political instability in the country. There is also a possibility that this security crisis was purposefully designed to cancel upcoming parliamentary elections to maintain the present government in power because nobody can guarantee that Pashinyan’s party and its allies will be able to gain enough votes to win in the upcoming elections. After all, the Pashinyan’s government appears to be inclined to pleasing Azerbaijani-Turkish demands at the expense of Armenia’s national interests. Therefore, parliamentary elections in Armenia do not meet the interests of the Azerbaijani-Turkish alliance.
Note: Grigor Hakobyan is an independent political, defense and security analyst residing in Phoenix, AZ. He holds a Bachelors’ degree in Political Science from Arizona State University and a Master’s degree in Education from Grand Canyon University. In the past, he has written analytical articles pertaining to Armenia and the surrounding region for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of John Hopkins University. Grigor Hakobyan has interned at the US House of Representatives, where he researched ethnic conflicts and terrorism in Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia regions and prepared morning briefings for a congressman. Additionally, he has interned at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies at the International Center for Terrorism Studies, where he researched terrorist networks operating in Russia, Central Asia and Caucasus regions. He is the founder and chief editor of Ararat Institute for Near Eastern Studies online magazine. From time to time, he also wrote political analysis articles for ANN (Armenian News Network)/Groong.