Armenia Downs More Turkish, Israeli Drones, as Azeri Forces Retreat from Arax River Region

YEREVAN—Armenian Ministry of Defense spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan announced on Tuesday morning that Armenian forces had expelled Azeri units from the Khudaferin Reservoir, an artificial lake capped by a dam across the Arax River between the Iranian and Artsakh borders. Azeri troops first reached the dam on Sunday, taking advantage of a freshly-declared ceasefire to dash some 15 miles down river to snap flag-raising photos near the historically significant 13th-century Khudaferin bridge.

This announcement came only minutes after the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense posted footage of Azerbaijani troops hoisting the Azeri crescented-tricolor in central Kovsakan. The town, which lay abandoned since its Azerbaijani inhabitants fled the fighting in the first war in 1994, eventually became home to Syrian-Armenian farmers fleeing the Syrian Civil War in 2013. The farmers were safely evacuated from the region. Stepanyan’s announced counter-attack suggests that a large flanking maneuver has managed to push Azeri troops entirely out of the region surrounding the Khudaferin Reservoir, likely trapping some in small pockets along the Artsakh River. 

Footage from the flag-raising ceremony in Kovsakan as well as a claim by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that the town had been “liberated” were soundly dismissed by Ministry of Defense (MoD) representative Artrsun Hovhannisyan. In his daily press briefing on Tuesday evening, Hovhannisyan once again warned viewers not to rely on map-tracking Azerbaijani military advances based solely on geolocating Azerbaijani flag-waving videos. Due to the topography of the region, Hovhannisyan explained that Azeri commando units take advantage of breaks in the Armenian defenses to infiltrate behind the lines for flag-raising photo ops designed for domestic consumption in their country, where media freedom and access to information are heavily restricted. “The proliferation of diversionary actions by Azerbaijan is in no way indicative of any battlefield success or advances by their troops,” Hovhannisyan said, adding that Armenia’s Armed Forces remain in full operational control over the battlespace. 

Armenian military officials also unveiled wreckage from two separate Turkish-manufactured Bayraktar TB2 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) which had been shot down along with at least four other Israeli drones over the previous day. At least one Israeli-manufactured Harop Loitering munition was recovered in Iran under unclear circumstances. The optics pod—L3 WESCAM CMX-15D model—from one of the Turkish drones was recovered intact. It included a serial number indicating that it had been manufactured by WESCAM in Ontario-Canada, a subsidiary of L3Harris Technologies in June of 2020 and fitted to the UCAV in September 2020, having operated for a total of 31 hours. The MoD claims that this discovery definitively confirms that Turkey has been reexporting Canadian military technology in violation of Canadian law. Ottawa had earlier provoked Ankara’s ire when it called for a temporary halt on exports when military analysts first linked footage from the battlefields in Artsakh to the Bayraktar late last month. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called on the rest of the NATO alliance to follow Canada’s example and ban further exports of military technology to Turkey. 

The successful shoot-down of two Bayraktars caused a considerable stir both in Armenia and among military observers. The advanced Turkish UCAVs pressed their advantage in altitude and range to inflict significant damage on Armenian air defenses and armor in the early days of the fighting. On Tuesday, Armenia’s MoD revealed that it had shot down “at least a dozen” Bayraktars, but those two were the first to be recovered in Armenian-held territory. One analyst suggested that the Armenian army had become better at targeting more technically complex drones. 

France is starting to answer growing international calls to recognize the independence of Artsakh. The town of Vienne just joined two other French municipalities in a formal recognition, while Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo strongly hinted that her municipal government was planning to follow suit. Meanwhile, Senator Valerie Boyer presented a bill to the French Senate recognizing the independence of the Republic of Artsakh.

Back in Yerevan, women from Artsakh, whose husbands were still on the front, protested in front of several European embassies, demanding that they put pressure on Baku and Ankara to cease their invasion. Others continued to collect food and money for soldiers and displaced families, while volunteers sewed sleeping bags, camouflage netting and other equipment destined for the front.

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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.

9 Comments

    • What happens if you have all the deeds to lands in incirlik? Is that worth anything today to go against Turkey?

  1. Does any sane Armenian believe that France, the US, or even Russia will recognize Artsakh’s independence? Hopefully not! It’s self-deception. Years ago, Armenia had the chance to negotitate a much better resolution of the Karabakh conflict than today. But everyone was under some sort of patriotic self-delusion and kept chanting “not one inch of land”. Now they are reaping the consequences of their short-sightedeness.

    • Let’s consider it in exchange for Nakhichevan. Why would we give up an inch of land without something in return? Promises are meaningless with Turks, look at past treaties. Besides, these are all Armenian lands with occupiers relocating Armenians throughout history for their own interests.

      Sadly, we can see for our very own eyes that Armenians don’t really have an ally and are on our own, which is what our ancestors went through during various parts of our history. What’s interesting is that you say “they are reaping” — who is they Razmig? This situation affects all Armenians, it is “we”.

      I think this is not about Artsakh at all and they want to build oil pipelines. That’s why they are focusing on securing the southern border flat land to eventually try to connect with Nakhichevan. I won’t be surprised if that is what they will ask Armenia to concede to retain a corridor to Artsakh.

      Earlier this year Chevron sold its assets in Baku to a huge Hungarian oil and gas company. The Turkish side also had plans in building pipeline to Nakhichevan this decade which got stalled. The lack of media attention to this war and general pro-Azeri inclination also makes me very suspicious.

      Armenian investigative journalists should see if there is something here, I’m not an expert in this matter.

    • Do you even have Armenian blood, Razmig? Because, your attitude is detached and hostile. you don’t know what you’re talking about, the entire area provides strategic benefits for defense and logistics. Also, the Armenians who paid their lives for that land would spit on your face, because of the way you want to capitulate. It’s so easy to judge others, because people can smugly say, “I told you so,” which is what you just did.

  2. Thanks Raffi for your insightful reporting. The criminal behavior is clear
    and available for all to see. Amazing capability of the Artsakh forces when
    you consider what they have been against. Proud of the professional military.

  3. Ok, but what about the war itself? Is it true that according from “independent sources” Azerbaijan took control over some lands at the South side? Is it also true that casualties for the Azerbaijani side rises up to 6000 against “only” 600 for the Armenian troops? I keep searching on Armenian Weekly, Asbarez, Armenpress and other Armenian sites and I find nothing about the current territorial situation.

    • As of now, on October, 23rd, Armenian fatalities have reached 927; on the other hand, October 20th estimates for Azerbaijan’s killed in action (KIA) have been established at 6,539 credible sources claim that Azerbaijan’s battle fatalities are now nearly 10,000 (on October 23rd).

      As for armaments lost among the enemy, it was established, on October 20th, that Azerbaijan lost 206 UAV Drones, 16 Helicopters, 24 Fighter/Bomber Aircraft, 588 Armored Vehicles, and 4 (TOS) Multiple Missile Launching Systems.

  4. Of course there were Israeli drones. Israel would just love to benefit from this war.

    Always worth mentioning that despite professing to be the Jews’ homeland, Israel repeatedly embraces Jew-hating clergymen (Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Robert Jeffress, etc). Seriously, read the things that these goons have said.

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