Artsakh Defense Army holds its own in second day of heavy fighting

Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan and MoD of Armenia Davit Tonoyan visited the Operations Control Center of the Artsakh Defense Army to follow developments along the LoC. (Photo: Shushan Stepanyan)

YEREVAN—Battles of varying intensity continue to rage along the entire length of the Line of Contact (LoC) as Azerbaijan’s attempted invasion of Artsakh enters its second day. Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan announced on Monday that an Armenian counter-offensive launched around midnight the previous day successfully recaptured the majority of front-line positions ceded to the Azeris on the first day of fighting. “We are fighting the combined forces of Azerbaijan and Turkey,” said the president during the press briefing.

While Sunday’s offensive launched by Azerbaijan hit the entirety of the front line, the most serious engagements were concentrated in the Fizuli area along the Iranian border, and Talysh, to the extreme north—echoing the battles which took place there during the 2016 April War. 

On Sunday afternoon, Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev announced that Azeri forces had “liberated” the settlements of Qaraxanbəyli, Qərvənd, Yuxarı Abdurrəhmanlı, Kənd horadiz, Böyük Mərcanlı and Nüzgar in the Fizuli region. However, those tiny hamlets, abandoned since the 1994 cease-fire, mostly lie within the no-man’s-land between the two forces. Artsakh authorities denied the loss. They instead reported repulsing an Azerbaijani armored thrust in the direction of nearby Hardut, before successfully restoring the LoC to its status quo ante-bellum. 

The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense also claimed to have captured the Mrav height in Artsakh’s northern Shahumyan province, threatening the Vardenis-Martakert highway, which was subsequently closed to civilian traffic as a precaution. However, Artsakh Security Council Secretary Samvel Babayan announced on Twitter that the highway remained “fully under our control.” Mount Mrav—the highest peak in Artsakh—was reportedly recaptured by Armenian forces on Monday afternoon.

For most of Monday, the town of Martakert and surrounding villages have come under heavy artillery fire which one military spokesperson described as being “of unprecedented intensity.” Azerbaijan, for its part, has claimed that the town of Tartar across the LoC, has come under Armenian counter-battery fire, hitting civilian areas as well as an unmarked military ambulance. Several attempted incursions into Armenian lines have been repulsed throughout the day, according to Artsakh officials. The Armenian Prime Minister’s wife, Anna Hakobyan, who is currently in Artsakh, visited wounded soldiers in the hospital, as well as families sheltering in underground bunkers. 

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Artsakh’s Ministry of Defense has confirmed the deaths of 42 servicemen during Sunday night’s counter-offensive, and subsequent combat actions along the front on Monday—which included a second Azerbaijani armored offensive—for a total of 84, in addition to at least 200 injured. President Harutyunyan estimates Azerbaijani losses in tanks and armor to be over 50 in the last 48 hours, while the Defense Ministry claims to have shot down at least five helicopters, 27 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and killed or wounded several hundred Azerbaijani personnel. The Azerbaijani side has denied this, countering that its armed forces had killed up to a thousand Armenians and taken important swaths of territory. Azerbaijan has yet to release official casualty figures.

On social media, rumors spread that Azerbaijani Major-General Mayis Barkhudarov was captured in the offensive, but Artsakh MOD officials denied that claim. Barkhudarov later resurfaced in an interview with Azerbaijani state-owned media. However, allegations that Turkey has been providing Azerbaijan with active military and material support have been increasingly substantiated. Reuters published an interview with two Turkish-trained Syrian Islamist militants who confimed that they were being transferred to Azerbaijan. “I didn’t want to go, but I don’t have any money,” one Syrian fighter was quoted by Reuters as saying. He also divulged that they were being paid $1,500 a month by the Turkish government. Additionally, UAV footage published by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense allegedly showing a drone strike on an Armenian vehicle had an interface which defense analysts identified as belonging to the Turkish-manufactured TB2 Bayraktar UCAV, which Azerbaijan does not have in its inventory. Another claim repeated by both the Artsakh and the Armenian presidents that Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter-bombers were deployed against civilian targets in Artsakh has yet to be independently verified.

The opponent’s UAV shot down in the village of Spitakashen (Photo: Armenian Unified Infocenter)

In the United States, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden released a statement on the developing situation in Artsakh calling on both sides to reestablish the cease-fire regime. He also took the opportunity to criticize his opponent President Donald Trump for not taking a more proactive, diplomatic role in the region. “The Trump administration also needs to step up its diplomatic efforts, together with fellow OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs France and Russia, to seek a peaceful resolution and to support confidence-building measures,” his statement read. For his part, President Trump told a reporter during Sunday evening’s press briefing that “We have a lot of good relationships in that area. We’ll see if we can stop it.” Careful not to lay blame on either of the parties, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called for “maximum restraint.” Russia has a close economic and military relationship with Armenia, but also serves as Azerbaijan’s largest supplier of heavy weaponry.

Back in Yerevan, the mobilization announced by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was met with enthusiasm and resolve. Throughout the day, fighting-age men showed up in droves at local military precincts for roll call. The military, however, has so far only enacted a selective call to active service with others being asked to stand by. All throughout the capital, large crowds gathered to see off coach buses filled with young men as they left for the front. Others assembled at collection points to donate food, clothes and supplies for the civilians of Artsakh. Lines also formed at hospitals where blood drives were being conducted. 

 

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One woman told the Armenian Weekly that one of her two sons had a medical deferment and was turned away from the call up. “My eldest son, who did get mobilization orders, told him ‘Don’t worry. I’ll fight for the two of us.’” Across the city, TV sets and radios are tuned into the news, while denizens are glued to their smartphones and discussing updates on the situation in Artsakh. Despite the tense mood, cautious optimism is widespread. “How are you so sure we’re going to win?” a woman was overheard asking in a cafe near one of the blood drive locations. “Because we have no other alternative,” came the response.

A home in the village of Martuni destroyed
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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.

18 Comments

  1. Stay strong Armenia. Know that you can only rely on yourself to get the job done. No one else is going to come to your rescue- not Russia, USA, France etc it’s all you. It was done at Sardarabad, it was done in 1994 and it will be done now.

  2. We are standing strong on our land, ancient land where the spirits of our ancestors from thousands of years bread with us! We are going to win in the name of the Father and of the Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen! Love you Armenia and Artsakh!

    • Och, me mudder-land is Eire, but they are not a bulwark of Christendom in a hostile neighborhood. The Irish government import mosul-mans now to weaken their culture. Heck, I don’t consider Eire a Christian country anymore, despite the lip service originally paid to it in their constitution.

      God bless Artsahh and Armenia! Defenders of the faith!

    • Are you sure the “GiveButter” link is legit? I searched the linked organizations website (withoursoldiers.com), they made no mention of the campaign on the “givebutter” site. For now I will donate to WithOurSoldiers PayPal that I found via their website.

    • Anca.org

      Please spread awareness: it is painful to watch an ancient Indigenous people of that origin attacked and the world silent!

  3. In terms of Russia being “Azerbaijan’s largest supplier of heavy weaponry,” that cannot possibly be true. In the past three days of fighting, the vast majority of military weapons used by the Azerbaijanis have been supplied by Turkey. In the fighting, back in July, as well as other recent Azerbaijani terrorist attacks (prior to last Sunday), most of the military weapons used by the Azerbaijanis had consisted of Israeli-made weapons.

    It’s rather absurd that the article, from above, refers to Turkey’s military and material support of Azerbaijan as being “allegations.” On the contrary, it’s a fact. Artsakh President, Arayik Harutyunyan, who had been informed by his sources, had stated, “Azerbaijani forces are actively using Turkish military equipment and weapons in their attacks on the entire border of Artsakh and Azerbaijan.”

    “Armenian government press sources are also citing Armenian intelligence and reporting that 4,000 mercenaries are fighting alongside Azerbaijani troops.”

    This, therefore means that in addition to those two mercenary soldiers (from the Reuters interview), at least 3,998 more were transferred to Azerbaijan from Turkey.

    • Those Zionists, are certainly not the slightest bit better than our Turkbaijani/Turk enemies. If, instead of Azerbaijan, it had been Israel who had been our neighbor, it would undoubtedly be teaming up with Turkey to create the same amount of terror against the Armenians, in an attempt to wipe out the Armenian culture and seize what’s left of the Armenian homeland.

  4. I am 47 years old man living in Central America with no armenian etnic background but i am willing to do everything on my hand to help or donate to Armenia and Arsakh. We as a human being can no let this evil turks commit another crime against the Armenians people.

  5. I strongly deplore the unprovoked Azeri attack on Artsakh last Sunday. And I signed the letter to President Trump and Biden. That said, I think that Yerevanian is writing in a paranoid fashon about Israel. In fact, if you pay attention to what Erdogan says, then you will see that he very often attacks Israel verbally and in 2010 he sent jihadi terrorists and “human rights” fakers to break the legitimate Israeli siege on Gaza. Ten Turkish terrorist jihadis were killed by Israeli forces in defending against the jihadis. Unfortunately, Pres. Barak Hussein Obama of the USA at the time supported Erdogan against Israel, at the time of that Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010 and in later years. He was twisting Israel’s arm [Netanyahu’s arm] to pay compensation to the families of the dead terrorists. People in Israel were upset about Obama’s policy in this regard.

  6. If you strongly deplore the unprovoked Azeri attack on Artsakh (as you claim), then you should also strongly deplore the Israeli supply of highly sophisticated military weapons to the Azeris, which are being used to launch terrorist attacks against Stepanakert (as well as other Armenian towns), and also being used to kill Armenian soldiers.

    You should also strongly deplore that for many years, Israel had been vigorously assisting Turkey in its endless, brutal campaign of Armenian Genocide denialism.

    And, you should also strongly deplore the horrifying atrocities that the Palestinian people have been subjected to since 1948 by the state of Israel.

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