Armenia condemns Azeri military exercises amid ongoing global pandemic

Azerbaijan army begins military exercises on May 18, 2020 (Photo: Azerbaijan MOD)

YEREVAN—The Armenian Ministry of Defense (MOD) has condemned an ongoing combined arms exercise being conducted by the Azerbaijani military as “a threat to the regional security environment.” Some 10,000 military personnel, 120 tanks and armored vehicles and 200 missiles and artillery systems have been participating in a large-scale military maneuver not far from the Artsakh Line-of-Contact (LoC) since May 18. 

State-run news outlets in Azerbaijan have described the military exercise as an assessment of their military’s readiness as well as to test new precision weaponry in their arsenal. However, the scale and the timing of this exercise in the midst of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, which both Armenia and Azerbaijan are still struggling to contain, have garnered criticism and concerns over escalation of tensions in the region. 

In an earlier statement, the Armenian MOD announced that “any attempt to move military hardware and personnel close to the Armenian border or the Line of Contact with Nagorno-Karabakh would be viewed as a provocation and have appropriate consequences.” It also accused Azerbaijan of ignoring United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent call for a global ceasefire throughout the length of the crisis. While Armenia publicly pledged to uphold the ceasefire, Azerbaijan remained mum.

Similarly, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced, after a May 8 phone call with Pope Francis, that he would support the Pontiff’s call for an “immediate ceasefire in all corners of the globe and unity as the world is exposed to an unprecedented threat.”

However, the global pandemic doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on the front line in April, with figures published by the International Crisis Group showing relatively consistent rates of cease-fire violations when comparing LoC incidents at the same time last year. Remarkably, the indefinite suspension of the OSCE Minsk Group’s cease-fire monitoring mission due to the ongoing pandemic had not immediately translated into new violence. In fact, the OSCE’s mediation of the conflict continued, unsurprisingly, via teleconferencing

Still, the latest round of snap military exercises announced by Azerbaijan comes in the wake of renewed tensions in the region. In late April, Armenian officials reported shooting down an Azeri unmanned aerial vehicle and coming under mortar fire. Last week, Berkaber village in Armenia’s Tavush Province came under heavy small arms fire emanating from Azeri positions across the border. While nobody was harmed, many civilian homes were riddled with bullet holes. One of the projectiles recovered suggests that the Azeris had been firing large Soviet .57 cal rounds, which are usually fired from heavy machine guns, or, more likely in this case, the Azerbaijani domestically-manufactured Istiglal anti-materiel rifle.

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While defense analyst Richard Giragosian rates the risk of such incidents snowballing into renewed hostilities as relatively low, given the context, he agrees that the timing and extent of the exercise pose reasons for concern. He told the Armenian Weekly that the sheer size and scope of the maneuver, following a slightly smaller one in early March, presents “a dangerous sign of preparations for a possible later offensive.” Giragosian also warned that the global distraction caused by the pandemic might prove a tempting opportunity for leaders in Baku to attempt to replicate their offensive of April 2016.

On the diplomatic front, international leaders have reacted to these recent incidents with calls for increased cooperation rather than hostilities. During a May 19 video conference between OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs Igor Popov (Russia), Stephane Visconti, (France), Andrew Schoffer (US) and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, the parties agreed on the need to keep monitoring the LoC and set up an OSCE visit to the region once the COVID-19 related restrictions are lifted. 

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

12 Comments

  1. the Armenian MOD announced that “any attempt to move military hardware and personnel close to the Armenian border or the Line of Contact with Nagorno-Karabakh would be viewed as a provocation and have appropriate consequences.”

    Uh yeah sure. What are those “appropriate consequences” THIS time? Inviting some apparatchiks from Russia to a massive khorovats party? Meeting some Azeris in Moscow to exchange tea gift bags and hand shakes? Attending a soccer match with Turks in Turkmenistan? This is the 26th year of liberation already, and throughout all that time we have been hearing of those magical “appropriate consequences”.

    So far, the biggest magical “appropriate consequences” were in 2016, when Armenian political and military impotence revealed itself for all the world to see and laugh at. And those apparatchiks of Moscow are still laughing to this day. In that case, military hardware and personnel was not only moved close to the border, but used and breached the line of contact, resulting in 100 dead Armenians in Artsakh where Artsakh cannot afford such a thing.

    AND WHAT WAS THE CONSEQUENCE OF THAT????

    • What is that you suggest, though? An all-out war? Against Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkey combined? Aided by the rest of the Muslim world – from Uzbekistan to Pakistan (and Al Qaeda and ISIS involved)? The Muslim world will send both warriors and military hardware (artillery, tanks, armored vehicles, etc.) to support Azeris – guaranteed. So, really, what is your suggestion? Armenia cannot afford 100 deaths – that’s the only thing you are state correctly. The rest of your criticism is bullshit. What “khorovats with Russian apparatchiks? How do you know? Did you share that khorovats with them – or is it usual impotent Armenian gossips? How can Armenia counter-balance Russian involvement? You know very well that America will always support Turkey and Azerbaijan. So the only you personally can do – instead of your pathetic impotent criticism – is join the Armenian Army and fight in Artsakh alongside your Armenian brothers. Don’t bother to answer, don’t bother to write ridiculous opinions, don’t waste your time and energy, that does NOT help Armenia. Instead, just think how you can help.

    • 26 years of liberation. What part of that don’t you get? In fact its the opposite, the impotent Azeri regime constantly calls for “militarily liberation”. It basically got its ass handed last April too BTW. They lost 1000 men…And if it wasn’t for traitor Russia to stop it the Armenian started a counter offensive and had the opportunity to take more land.

    • Technically, holding military exercises within their own territory isn’t a causus belli, but it is a provocation – so the best Armenia can do is issue a warning

  2. If I were an Azeri general watching the pandemic numbers in Armenia, I would be getting more aggressive too. Almost 6,000 cases, with the daily numbers shooting up like a rocket? It’s no joke.

    • Doesn’t make much sense. 6000 (now a little over 7000) is a fraction of a percentage point in what way would that change anything to the current balance of forces? – about 3x more people have died in Armenia so far from car crashed than from COVID, and yet the Azeris haven’t managed to cash in on that “strategic advantage”. Meanwhile Azerbaijan has its own pandemic to deal with.

  3. This worries me. THE major Azeri drills aren’t for show. Also the recent Russian treasonous Lavrov comments about returning land and the seemingly silent abandonment by the US state department and the arms installs by Turkey in Nakichivan suggests something is brewing. BE PREPARED! I feel the possible lame Duck Trump Administration is a closing window of opportunity to turn a blind eye toward hostilities against Armenia, especially under the cover of this Pandemic..BE vigilant. Watch Nakechivan. The Azeri despot doesn’t have the stomach for a long war. However Nakichivan is directly supplied by Turkey so its basically as if Armenia is fighting endlessness Turkey from its west.., Russia will not come to Armenian’s aid either. They would rather create a situation for permanent Russian “peace keepers”.. More hegemony and prison for Armenia. Russia is useless and NOT to be trusted.. Diaspora needs to prepare in case of war to mobilize resources. A basic war plan NOW. Prepare all weapons and abilities to unleash hell in all directions. Liberate more lands at all cost as their consequence.. This plan should cost them.. Its the only answer. Destroy the pipelines if attacked. Make that clear. LETS ALL BE PREPARED!

    • Yes, Its pretty simple, Armenia and Artsakh should protect themselves and cause enough damage to the enemy if attacked; enough damage (such as the pipelines or creating a buffer) so that the azeris think twice about attacking again. Any country that wants to survive would do this.

    • Joe, what you said is correct our unity is more important than Russia and others. The most important regional player name was not there, Iran, the Iranian armed forces ranked 14th in the world ahead of Israel. All The US and her coward allies are after Armenians, because Armenia and Iran have stronger defense policy ties! We have been neighbours for over 2000 years, regardless of Islamic regime, who control entire ancient Persian people! Even Regime change in Iran they will support Armenia politically and militarily!

      We should have better relationship with India as well! If a war break up in Caucasus nobody will know what may happen next the entire Caucasus North and South will become a fireball and I do believe NATO or Russia will remain neutral as they did during 1988-94 war. NATO will stay neutral, because of France and Greece! So I believe if a war break up that will be between Iran-Armenia against Axerbaijan-Turkey! Then in this case Iran will neutralize Turkey. The war will remain directly between Armenia and Axer bay jan again!

  4. Yeltsin was indeed a more reliable partner than what we have now, with Putin; having said that, Armenia and Russia continue to abide by a military alliance, and Russians are based on the Armenian-Turkish border, alongside Armenian Forces. Upon retiring, Armenia gifted Boris Yeltsin his weight in Armenian Brandy, as a thank you gift; on the other hand, Vladimir Putin shouldn’t be disdained, he has been conspicuously present at Armenians Events, and he too is a friend.

    Looking back in time, we can see that the USSR and the Bolsheviks failed to protect Armenia’s territorial integrity, on several occasions. In the 1920s, the Bolsheviks gifted Nakhichevan and Karabakh to Azerbaijan, they gifted Javakh to Georgia, and they gifted Kars and Ardahan to Turkey. All of those actions have negatively impacted present day Armenia. More recently, Gorbachev sided with Azerbaijan, and helped them militarily, until the USSR collapsed in 1991. The early years of the Karabakh War (1988-1991) were a time of sheer perseverance, nothing less than an Armenian Version of the Valley Forge saga of the American Revolution.

    Things changed for the better, shortly after the USSR collapsed, when Boris Yeltsin took a leadership role in Russia. An unstoppable string of Armenian Victories prevailed over the situation, from early 1992 until the end of the Karabakh War, in 1994. The Armenian military success was due to Armenian courage, valor, and the military geniuses whom led their war effort, and also the chaotic impotence and incompetence of the enemy.

    It’s noteworthy that the Karabakh War (1988-1994) was buried deeply below the front page of world news, while the Balkan Wars of the 90s received prime attention. In those times, I had to rely upon the BBC World Service, and the New York Times for up-to-date brief news summaries, and the California Courier, with Harut Sassounian’s Editorial Section, as well as this very newspaper (The Armenian Weekly).

    The primary exception to the general media disinterest, was the Khojaly Massacre, in February, 1992, used as slanderous propaganda. Time and Newsweek displayed it on the magazine covers, something that we didn’t see when Armenians were tormented and massacred at Sumgait, Kirovabad, Baku, and Maraga. There was no followup stories, when Azerbaijan’s Khojali accusations were debunked, and it’s still misrepresented by Wikipedia. The Khojaly Massacre occurred in an area near Agdam, which was still controlled by Azeris.

    Armenia’s Karabakh Stronghold (Artzakh) has fortified itself, and defeated Azerbaijan in the 4 day April, 2016 War, as well as previously in the Karabakh War. The weekly gunfire incidents have done more to waste enemy ammunition, and little more, while enemy infiltration attempts are no longer effective (because of advanced technology).

    These recent enemy military exercises and military escalation practices are indeed red flags, and should be taken seriously. Perhaps, it’s time to send in military reserves, from Armenia, to be used against any breaches in the line.

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