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.
— Shushan Stepanyan (@ShStepanyan) October 20, 2020
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 remote control camera model of the #Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat UAV, hit by the air defense of the #ArtsakhDefenseArmy, is CMX-15D, manufactured in June 2020 by the Canadian company WESCAM & installed on #Bayraktar TB2 in Sept. 2020.
The total operational time is 31 hours. pic.twitter.com/YCSLxTdzxz
— Shushan Stepanyan (@ShStepanyan) October 20, 2020
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.
J’ai demandé à l’ensemble des groupes du Sénat de s’associer à ma proposition de résolution portant sur la condamnation de l’Azerbaïdjan et de la Turquie et la reconnaissance de la république d’#Artsakh. Des vies sont en jeu, un génocide s’opère sous nos yeux. Il est temps d’agir pic.twitter.com/n2AeimVhGi
— Valérie Boyer (@valerieboyer13) October 20, 2020
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.