Armenia Fighting Azerbaijan at Gates of Shushi

(Photo: David Ghahramanyan/Armenian Unified Infocenter, November 5, 2020)

YEREVAN—Armenia’s army is bracing for a possible attack on Shushi as Azeri forces continue desperate attempts to reach the city before winter. According to the Armenian Ministry of Defense, various formations of Azeri infantry have been discovered and eliminated to the south of the fortress city in what MOD spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan has dubbed a “sweep up operation” in the strategic Berdzor corridor which links the two Armenian republics. 

Armenian sources claim that a concentration of Azerbaijani armor mustering south of the village of Karin Tak was wiped out by concentrated fire, while a sniper team reportedly took out an Azerbaijani platoon which had ventured into the village of Lisagor, which lies directly on the strategic Goris-Stepanakert highway, roughly 11 KM (seven miles) from Shushi itself as the crow flies. 

With ongoing hostilities so close to the town of Berdzor, the Armenian Army chose to temporarily close the important highway to all non-military traffic until the threat was entirely neutralized. Azeri fire near the road also prevented almost 80 foreign reporters from leaving Artsakh “without risking their lives” according to the non-profit Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Azerbaijani Presidential spokesman Hikmet Hadjiev responded to RWB’s plea to maintain safe passage to civilians, accusing Armenia of unilaterally shutting the road. However, his claim that both the Karvajar and Berdzor highways remained “under Armenian control” seemingly contradicted claims he had maintained since late September that Azeri forces had captured the Mrav mountain range, which stretches along the Karvajar highway. 

While Hovhannisyan didn’t deny that the Azerbaijanis were aiming for a symbolic capture of Shushi, he underplayed the threat to the city. According to him, guerrilla-style battles have continued all night and all day today, in which Armenian forces uncovered and eliminated Azerbaijani infantry units in the forests south of the city. “Attackers usually come towards the defenders,” he said, describing the military’s active defense tactics, “but in this case, the defenders are going after the would-be attackers.” He also unveiled that Azerbaijani flags were found in the pockets of each and every Azeri body, speculating that Baku was hoping to capture the city by November 9—National Flag Day in Azerbaijan. This, he predicted, would not succeed. “As our ‘cleaning crews’ continue their work in the forests, their hiding places will become hell for them,” Hovhannisyan added.

Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan, who last week had called on the Armenian people to take up arms to defend Shushi and promised to punish the enemy at its gates, was seen inspecting defenses on Thursday in full body armor, accompanied by Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan. “Every effort is being made to keep the fortress city impregnable,” he assured after his visit. “Shushi, with its rich cultural and spiritual values and traditions, is one of our greatest legacies we have inherited from our ancestors, and we must pass it on to new generations in the same Armenian spirit.”

Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan and Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan pictured during their visit to Shushi, November 5, 2020

In Moscow, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that Azerbaijan’s importation of Syrian jihadis risked turning parts of the Caucasus into a “terrorist enclave,” which Russia would not tolerate. The Russian Federation had earlier publicly reiterated its commitment to ensure Armenia’s territorial sovereignty in the event of a foreign attack. 

However, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev rejected the Russian statement in an interview with Spanish media. He instead accused Russia of turning a blind eye to what he insists is the presence of foreign mercenaries fighting on the Armenian side. He further accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of “spreading unverified, groundless so-called information and rumors.” He also declared that he had no intention to meet with his Armenian counterparts for any peace negotiations other than the “removal of Armenian troops” from Artsakh.

This statement was in contrast to comments by Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan who announced that his government was still committed to working within the OSCE framework to ensure a lasting ceasefire. “Among the most important issues is the introduction of verification mechanisms to enable us to maintain the ceasefire more effectively,” he said. 

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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. As of this writing, the real number of dead on our side alone is around 2500, and many thousands more are severely wounded. Over 20% of Artsakh is now in Azeri hands. Shushi and Stepanakert are being bombed on a daily basis. Hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons and military infrastructure have been destroyed by Azeris. The Lachin/Berdzor corridor has been shut down due to Azeri military activity. Azeri troops are within eyesight of Shushi.

    Six weeks into this war, Artsakh has not yet been recognized; Armenia’s armed forces have not yet been fully committed to Artsakh’s defense; Ganja’s gas/oil hub has not yet been destroyed; the war has not yet been brought into Azerbaijan; there has yet been a major counterattack against Azerbaijani forces inside Artsakh; and Russian help has not yet been officially requested. For the most part, Artsakh is fighting this war on its own.

    The only thing Armenia’s government is doing is sending inexperienced and defenseless conscripts and civilian volunteers to get blown to bits by Turkish and Israeli made combat drones. Nikol’s Western financed regime is doing everything it can NOT to win this war.

    So, the congratulations goes to all our Democratizers and Westernizers in Armenia. You have really outdone yourselves this time. Bravo…

  2. Encouraging news for a change, if true bravo brave Armenian soldiers that against all the odds are fighting heroically day & night to save their territory, country & dignity specially when not only facing the Azeris ( with their powerful NATO friend Turkey) but also stooges called Syrian left over DAESH jihadists!!
    Կեցցէ Հայ քաջ երիտասարդ զինւորներն որ պահպանում եք Հար ժողուվուրդի խողն ու պատիվը անիրաւ և անխիղճ աշխարհքի առջև։ Աստւած պահապան, Քրիստոնեութիւնը և Աստծոյ հոցին և ուժը յաղթելու է մթթութեան և Մոհամեդական ուժերին, Ամեն !!!!!

  3. Sorry, նախկին կարծիքումս Մեկ տեղ սխալւել եմ, “Հայ” ժողովուրդի խողն ու պատիվը!!!

  4. It is about time for Russia as our ally to provide us with the necessary help to destroy the drones and modern planes given to the Azeris by Turkey and Israel. It is about time for Russia to demonstrate that their weapons are superior.

    • Maybe a certain PM shouldn’t have started instigating so much anti-Russian sentiment? What was that CSTO stunt? What were those staffing decisions? What were those arrests? You’d have to think it’s self-sabotage if you didn’t know in reality it’s just unadulterated amateurism. And the inability of locals to see behind the most blatant tricks, of course. Can’t believe I have relatives who initially supported that unibrowed journalist (that is a derogatory term nowadays, by the way). Well, now you have kids dying at the front but I’m sure it was worth… what exactly? Don’t get me wrong, I get that this was orchestrated and that Russia should have learned by now to preempt these tricks but still, you saw what happened in Georgia and Ukraine and you still decided to go ahead?
      Fool me once, shame on you,
      fool me twice, shame on me,
      fool me thrice, I may be mentally challenged.

      Since we now all reap what the ignorant among us have allowed to be sown, let’s maybe focus on what we can do rather than expect help from those we have unnecessarily provoked. That’s why an autocracy is significantly better suited for our region than this pseudo-democracy, at least you have reliability… by the way, keep calling Aazerbaijan a petro-autocracy in contrast to our shining democracy and see how many people care (hint: the number will be between zero and 0). But it seems like that lesson is slowly coming through, at least that’s a start.

    • They have already been supplying us with weapons and downing Turkish drones. I think it is time for Israelis and Westerners to stop aiding and fuelling this war by arming Azerbaijan.

    • Azerbaijan would never dare to attack Artsakh if Putin didn’t allow them.
      Russia allowed this to happen

    • @Laz/others Neither Russia, nor Iran, nor the US ever lied to us and said they support our cause in Artsakh. Russia’s duty is to Armenia, not Artsakh. This war has always been a lost cause, and we should’ve done something about it when we had the upper hand – before it began. The Armenian government/diaspora have failed the Karbakhtsis and our teenaged soldiers by telling them if they fight with enough valor or conviction they will “win”. Well we won in the 90s, but it’s evident we have no diplomatic hope of achieving independence for Artsakh. Pashinyan said “not an inch of land for the enemy”, I say not a drop of blood. Evacuate the Karabakhtsis immediately and with dignity, before they fall to Az hands.

  5. I don’t have a clear understanding of several dimensions of Armenian strategy. I would appreciate knowledgeable readers sharing their insights. Armenia is providing materiel, logistics, and training volunteers but has not committed its military to saving NK. The thought process may be that if Armenia initiates engagement then there is no obligation on the part of CSTO to support Armenia. At what point should that calculus change? It is looking increasing dire for NK. The situation grows more untenable. Should Armenia insert itself while NK still holds strategic positions. If and once the Azeris hold the strategic locations is it then too late for Armenia to commit? Or, is it too much of a risk to Armenia itself if Armenia commits its forces to holding NK. Lots of variables such as hitting Azeri oil infrastructure, if Armenia takes it offline does the tepid and gratuitous support of other nations become hostile? If Azeri oil infrastructure is effectively hit, does that insure a strike on Metsamor etc.. Lots of variables–would appreciate the insights of those more knowledgeable. Thanks

  6. Since this message board seems populated by Western and Turkish internet activists, allow me to clear the air: Russians have sent over one thousand tons of weapons and ammunition to Armenia in recent weeks. Not only are they guarding Armenia’s border with Turkey, they have also deployed troops on Armenia’s border with Artsakh to make sure Azeris do not try to enter Armenia itself. Russians are also providing Armenia will battlefield intelligence. Russians have also deployed their anti-drone systems in the area. This behind the scenes Russian intervention is why many drones have been brought down by Armenians in recent weeks. It’s amazing how out of touch with reality a vast majority of english speaking Armenians are.

    • Your comment as not aged very well Gurgen. Your beloved mother Russia has sold Armenia down the drain just like Stalin have Nakhcivan and Artsakh to Azeris and operation ring stopped Armenians from retaking the former in the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. Wake up, Russians are laughing at us (not saying the west is any different). Stop blindly defending Russia when they are the main source of our misery.

  7. The Armenian army has to start on the offensive ,fighting always on the defensive will make us lose the war. From now on we must hit hard with bigger destructive weapons.

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