Armenia’s snap elections are fast approaching on June 20, and they may literally determine whether Armenia continues to exist as an independent state or is partitioned by its surrounding states. With hundreds of Azerbaijani troops having recently encroached into Syunik and Gegharkunik provinces, this danger is already beginning to unfold.
It should be clear, then, that the most important priority in Armenian politics at this point is national security. Not removing church history classes from Armenia’s schools. Not doling out millions of dollars of bonuses while the government can’t even get its drones to an exhibition. Not the boogeyman of corruption, which seems to be about eight parts libel and slander built upon two parts truth. National security.
Then, when determining who to vote for in these elections and who to encourage your relatives to vote for, ask yourself, who can best provide for the national security of Armenia? By this standard, the very worst candidate with a chance to win, the one whose election may spell the end of Armenian statehood, is Nikol Pashinyan. The remainder of this article will outline a number of the most salient, and somehow, still unexplained, blunders made by Pashinyan and his regime during the 44-day war.
Armenian Missiles and Azerbaijani Airfields
The first blunder is Armenia’s apparent underutilization and misuse of its missile arsenal against Azerbaijani military airfields. Armenia had at least four types of rockets/missiles that had the range to reach Azerbaijan’s military airfields and help to neutralize the aerial threat: Smerch, Scud, Tochka and Iskander.
While Vahram Poghosyan, the spokesperson for the president of Artsakh, claimed that the military airport at Ganja was destroyed, the military airport in actual fact had not been significantly damaged. Why Armenia’s missiles apparently weren’t extensively used to target Azerbaijani military airfields and support Armenia’s air defenses to my knowledge has still not been explained, months after the end of the conflict.
In a scandalous interview, Pashinyan suggested that “the fired Iskander did not explode or exploded only 10-percent, for example,” and then, after a response from the Russian Ministry of Defense, walked back his statement, claiming that he had been misinformed. During the same interview, in which he questioned the functionality of the Iskander missiles, Pashinyan suggested a potential explanation for why the missiles allegedly did not function, “Maybe it [the Iskander] is a weapon from the 80s?” The Iskander began military service with Russia in 2006.
The fact that Armenia’s commander-in-chief, months after the war, didn’t know what decade his military’s crown jewel was from attests to his ignorance with regard to military questions. The fact that Pashinyan publicly badmouthed the Russian military industry, which is at this moment preventing Armenia from being wiped off the map by Turkey, attests to his diplomatic incompetence.
And so to this day we still don’t have a response from Pashinyan as to why Armenia’s most advanced weapon or other long-range missile systems, which should have been a great help in neutralizing Azerbaijan’s drone advantage, were not used to do so.
There are a few excuses that can be used to try to vindicate Pashinyan from the above criticism. One is that Azerbaijan could have used advanced missiles to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles and protect its airfields.
There are a number of problems with this excuse. First, the Azerbaijani military failed to protect the city of Ganja from an Armenian missile strike, apparently carried out using Scud missiles, which are much older and less accurate than Iskander missiles.
Second, even Saudi Arabia, which spends multiples more than Turkey does on its military, couldn’t save its oil facilities from Houthi drone and missile strikes. If much wealthier Saudi Arabia couldn’t save itself from Houthi rebels, is it likely that Azerbaijan would be able to protect itself from Iskander ballistic missiles? Similarly, Israel, with its Iron Dome system, failed to prevent Hamas from recently hitting its oil infrastructure.
The Mobilization of the Reserves
The second blunder, according to former Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Movses Hakobyan, is that Pashinyan halted the mobilization of the reserves on the third day of the war. Pashinyan later on Facebook also called for volunteers to organize their own units and pick a commander for themselves to participate in the war. This was total absurdity. When Armenia has tens of thousands of reserves who previously served in the military, a prearranged plan for mobilizing these reserves, and when according to Pashinyan himself, we were in the midst of a new Battle of Sardarabad, why was mobilization of reserves halted and replaced with a call for self-assembled volunteers?
One excuse made for this move is that this was a drone and artillery war, not an infantry war. While infantry may not have been very effective in the southern flatlands, the vital stretch from Hadrut to Shushi is a mountainous, forested area.
Moreover, thanks to Vova Vartanov’s VOMA Battalion defending the town of Karmir Shuka, part of the town of Taghavard and the asphalt road leading to Shushi, the Azerbaijanis’ use of ground equipment was restricted in the battle for Shushi. Well organized and entrenched Armenian infantry protecting the stretch from Hadrut to Shushi could have radically altered the course of the war.
The idea that “we had enough infantry” is also contradicted by the president of Artsakh, Arayik Harutyunyan, who repeatedly publicly called for reinforcements throughout the war and stated immediately after the war that there were not enough people to defend Stepanakert.
Further still, even if we needed only a small amount of infantry, then this small amount should have been drawn in an organized manner from the reserves, not from self-assembled volunteer units responding to a Facebook post.
The Armenian Military
The next Pashinyan-produced catastrophe I’ll mention here is that Pashinyan, according to former President Serzh Sargsyan, did not employ the majority of the Armenian military to support the Artsakh Defense Army. Again, if this was another Sardarabad, as Pashinyan claimed, why did he send self-assembled groups of volunteers rather than the standing Armenian military to war?
One possible explanation for not employing the majority of the Armenian military to Artsakh is that we needed them to defend against a possible Turkish invasion from the west. However, if this were true, then why were the reserves not totally mobilized? Does anyone think our standing army alone, without the reserves, would have been enough to defend against a Turkish invasion?
With all of these baffling errors in mind, the excuse that Pashinyan only had two-and-a-half years to prepare for this war, while the former leaders had 30 years, rings hollow. If in 2018 Pashinyan inherited from Serzh Sargsyan four types of rockets/missiles that could reach Azerbaijani airfields, tens of thousands of reserves with military experience and a system to mobilize them, and a standing Armenian military, but then proceeded to gravely misuse or underutilize each of these resources, whose fault is that?
It should be noted that the Armenian military by and large held against the Azerbaijani military in the northern, northeastern and eastern directions. Only in the southeast did the enemy break through, which led to their victory. Had Armenia thrown its full weight into this war, is it unreasonable to believe that the southeastern front could have been defended like every other front?
Further still, if Pashinyan was not going to employ Armenia’s missiles to destroy enemy airfields, was not going to more fully mobilize the reserves, and was not going to deploy the majority of the standing Armenian military to reinforce the Artsakh Defense Army, then why did he not accept Vladimir Putin’s offer to end the war in late October? We could have avoided many casualties and territorial losses, including the city of Shushi.
If we were going to fight with two arms and a leg tied behind our back, then it should have been clear that we were heading toward devastating defeat, and Pashinyan should have accepted the late October ceasefire offer. From the available information, it seems that Pashinyan neither committed to wholeheartedly fighting nor used diplomatic means to stop the war as soon as possible to minimize human and territorial losses. Instead, we were caught in some strange and catastrophic limbo.
If I were to provide an exhaustive account of the reasons why Pashinyan’s regime must be removed from power for the sake of Armenia, I would need to write a multivolume work. Since this is an article, I’ve outlined above a handful of the most striking reasons: the misuse of missiles, the botched mobilization of the reserves, and the lack of use of the Armenian military.
At least on paper, Azerbaijan has the right to give the boot to the Russian peacekeepers who are preventing Azerbaijan from swallowing what is left of Artsakh in about four-and-a-half years.
On June 20, if Armenians do not vote out the walking catastrophe that is Nikol Pashinyan and replace him with a team that possesses military and diplomatic competence, then the existence of Artsakh, and then Syunik, and then the rest of the Armenian state and nation will be in danger of speeding toward annihilation.