STEPANAKERT—Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has declared victory in the second Karabakh War according to the Turkish state-owned news platform TRT World. “We have destroyed the myth of invincibility of the Armenian Army,” the President was quoted as saying. In a tweet posted at 3:54 PM local time on November 4, Aliyev added that Armenia had basically acknowledged its own military defeat “and our victory.” The TRT World “breaking news” tweet was mysteriously deleted shortly after.
We have modern weaponry and high fighting spirit. We showed who’s who and proved that Armenia’s ”invincible army” was a myth. They have already admitted defeat. This is an acknowledgment of their military defeat and our victory.
— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) November 4, 2020
The news of Artsakh’s alleged defeat came as a surprise to residents. “Right now, I’m in Stepanakert,” tweeted Anush Ghavalyan, “but there are no Azerbaijani soldiers or mercenaries around.”
The Azeri president’s perplexing announcement came at a time when none of the Azerbaijani military’s objectives—the capture of the strategic Berdzor corridor and the historic capital of Shushi—have been achieved. Some analysts have interpreted Aliyev’s comments as an attempt at megaphone diplomacy: an attempt to signal an intent to negotiate to the Armenian side while appearing victorious to domestic audiences.
Of particular interest in the announcement was the reframing of the conditions of victory. In an October 17 address to his people, Aliyev outlined his intention not to stop until the “fascist Armenian dogs” were forced out of Artsakh “like rats.” This rhetoric provided justification for Azerbaijan’s breaking of three negotiated ceasefires in a row—which coincided with Azerbaijani military gains.
Nevertheless, in the last two weeks, conditions on the battlefield have changed significantly. The Azerbaijani armored thrusts of the war’s early weeks, covered by sophisticated Israeli and Turkish drones, have been replaced with tough, guerrilla-style fighting in the foothills to the south of Artsakh—where Armenians, fighting out of sight of loitering drones, are in their element. New gains are few and far between. Armenian forces continue to repulse various desperate assaults on the northern and eastern frontiers.
Additionally, Armenian forces have since adapted to Azerbaijan’s tactics and have found considerably more success in downing Azerbaijani UAVs and knocking out armored vehicles. According to battlefield footage released by the Armenian Ministry of Defense (MoD), Azerbaijani infantry assaults are increasingly being launched without armor cover, suggesting a significant loss in capability. MoD spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan seemingly confirmed this development on multiple occasions, announcing that Azerbaijan’s “technological edge has been virtually obliterated.”
— Shushan Stepanyan (@ShStepanyan) November 4, 2020
However, despite the significant decrease in hostilities in recent weeks, Azerbaijan has maintained pressure on the eastern towns of Martuni and Martakert. Azeri forces also launched desperate assaults both towards Berdzor and Shushi overnight with fighting reaching the valleys below the fortress town. Veteran journalist and founder of the Hetq investigative news agency Edik Baghdasaryan posted on Facebook that fighting south of the town of Karin Tak had been quite intense overnight, but that the Azeri assault had been pushed back. Armenian military officials also declared having halted two Azeri armored pushes towards Berdzor, in which several tanks and APCs were destroyed. The MoD then announced that it was engaged in operations to clean out Azeri stragglers from the Berdzor valley.
Still, the government did officially close off sections of the Goris-Berdzor-Stepanakert road to civilian traffic for the first time since the war began, suggesting that the danger of Azeri attacks remained high. These attacks, which were likely timed to coincide with the election day in the US, have been interpreted as a “Hail Mary” in a desperate attempt to achieve some objectives before returning to negotiations.
Hovhannisyan repeated that the closing of the road to civilian traffic was a temporary precaution until the military was sure that Azeri scouts had been thoroughly rebuffed. The MoD also released footage of domestically-manufactured combat drones hitting Azerbaijani infantry south of the Berdzor valley.
Meanwhile four Azerbaijani UAVs were shot down over the eastern province of Gegharkunik on Wednesday night. The province has been the target of two drone strikes in the past month.
According to Hovhannisyan, the Armenian military is now more combat effective than it was at the beginning of the war, having solved some logistical and operational issues which had plagued it several weeks earlier. “I am convinced we are going to win because I have seen the fire in the eyes of the 18 year-old soldiers and volunteers defending Fizuli, Hadrut and Karvajar,” said the spokesman. “With that energy, we can never lose.”
As Azerbaijan continued to shell civilian towns in Artsakh over the course of the past day, Stepanakert mayor Davit Sargsyan shared that 40-percent of his city has been destroyed by shelling. While a majority of people have fled to seek refuge, 30-percent of the town’s population remains in bunkers. Several civilians were wounded during overnight artillery attacks on Shushi, inflicting significant damage on infrastructure. Concrete numbers on casualties have yet to be reported.
— Armenian Unified Infocenter (@ArmenianUnified) November 4, 2020
In an unprecedented example of the targeting of noncombatants, Yerevan State Medical University reports that a medic named Sasha Rustamyan was ambushed and killed by a group of Azerbaijani soldiers disguised in Armenian military uniforms. Rustamyan was transporting a wounded soldier from the frontline. The wounded soldier and driver of the ambulance are both critically injured. Since the start of the war, 46 civilians have been killed and 144 wounded by targeted Azeri attacks.
Meanwhile, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan spoke at the 130th Session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Wednesday marked the 70th anniversary of the signature of the European Convention on Human Rights. In his remarks, Mnatsakanyan implored the Committee to take action beyond statements that have proven ineffective in the face of Azerbaijani noncompliance and secure unhindered access to conflict zones. “I urge the Committee of Ministers to take bold steps and be worthy of the legacy of the founding fathers of the Council of Europe, the legacy of peace and prosperity, of greater unity in Europe,” he said. “The inability to express a position on an ongoing war or even acknowledging the sanitary needs of people living in conflict zones testifies to its deep crisis. The Committee must take actions, or it is doomed to be obsolete.”