By Evgeny Krutikov, originally at Vzglyad – The end of the Second Karabakh War gave rise to many mysteries and conspiracy theories. Indeed, some of the circumstances of this conflict are extremely mysterious, or at least paradoxical from the point of view of conventional military logic. Apparently, the Armenian leadership has itself provoked a political catastrophe.
Let us list exactly which mysteries raise the biggest questions and provoke the emergence of “conspiracy theories” in Armenia (and not only there).
1. Why didn’t Armenia carry out full-fledged mobilization and sent fully equipped military units to the conflict area?
Despite loud patriotic statements, no real mobilization was carried out in Armenia. The peacetime numerical strength of the Armenian army – around 50 thousand people – was increased only by volunteers. While the conditions of hostilities demanded to increase the number of people defending Karabakh to at least 80-100 thousand people. At the same time, very soon the shortage of specialists (for example, for artillery and missile defense systems) began to affect the frontline troops in the Armenian army. There was no one to replace those who died or were wounded.
It is inexplicable for what reason Yerevan did not begin to carry out real mobilization. The Armenian leadership simply avoids talking on this topic. If there was a mobilization plan, no one tried to fulfill it. As a result, there was no rotation of servicemen on the frontline, in some areas people were sitting in trenches for a month without rotation. On the frontline, there were 18-20-year-old guys and at some point, very young people who previously never fried a single shot made up to 80% of the personnel. The Karabakh detachments, made up of professionals and veterans, suffered heavy losses in the very first week, for which there were no replacements, since no reinforcements were sent.
Volunteer units in Armenia were formed according to party lines. The scandal was caused by an attempt to form a separate detachment of the “Prosperous Armenia” party named after the oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan – now Pashinyan’s main opponent. The two have been in conflict for over ten years. Now the prime minister openly calls Tsarukyan “the culprit of the fall of Shushi,” since his phantom squad allegedly was not enough at the front to win. These conflicts could have been avoided simply by having a mobilization plan and a desire to implement it.
The main military forces of Armenia did not move to Karabakh. But in order to relieve the tension created by the Azerbaijani UAVs, it was enough just to redeploy early detection radars to Goris. And one army corps would have been enough to cover the southern direction even at the stage when the Azerbaijanis languidly stomped in front of the first line of defense. The proper supply was not organized and after a month of fighting this led to a shortage of missiles for missile defense systems and shells for cannon artillery. And without the support of artillery, the infantry can only die heroically.
All this is borderline sabotage, although it can be partially explained by local slovenliness and unwillingness to weaken the defense of Armenia proper. The latter is a very controversial position and it looks like the Armenian leadership has simply abandoned Karabakh to its fate.
2. Why did the northern front behave so strangely?
In the north and northeast of Karabakh, in the Madagiz region, there was a large fortified area of the Armenian defense, which included a lot of combat-ready units. And they really put up serious resistance to the advancing Azerbaijani group and in the end actually stopped it (although they lost several positions and villages).
But after that the elite battalion “Yehnikner” suddenly retreated, although its commander was awarded the “Hero of Artsakh” medal. Moreover, since October 3, neither Yekhnikner nor any military unit at all from the northern front has been removed and has not been transferred to the aid of the fledgling south. At the same time, the Azerbaijanis only once decided to imitate an offensive in the north again, clearly for distracting purposes. There was no need to keep up to 20 thousand people in the north.
The Karabakh leadership informally explains all this by the lack of resources. But now the “lack of resources” in Karabakh is used to explain everything.
3. Why did the southern front collapse?
The fact that the Azerbaijanis were striking the main blow in the south, in the flatland zone, was already visible with the naked eye in the first few days of the war. Nevertheless, resources – human and technical – began to arrive on the southern front when this front was essentially lost. The flatland zone was lost, and the front stopped along the edge of the mountains from the Red Bazaar to Martuni. As a result, up to 30 thousand people have gathered in this area, defending Karabakh. They were threatened with complete encirclement and death, which was one of the reasons for the signing of the ceasefire agreement. At the same time, before the occupation of Jabrail, the Azerbaijani troops advanced very slowly, disrupting their own pace of the offensive. This gave the Armenians a small relief, in order to understand the situation and start redeploying.
After the occupation of Jebrail, the front began to fall apart, and the advance of the Azerbaijanis sharply accelerated. The momentum was lost.
For what reason did the Armenian command not decide to transfer additional resources to the southern front? This is another mystery.
4. Why did the Armenian side confine itself to only passive defense?
During the entire war, the Armenian side made only two attempts to counterattack against the forward units of Azerbaijanis who were moving far ahead. Both times this happened opposite of Lachin in a narrow gorge, with the extreme vulnerability of the Azerbaijani battalion-tactical group (BTG). Once even successful. But these operations boiled down simply to the massive delivery of MLRS strikes against enemy positions. Operations to close the gorge and encircle the enemy in other sectors of the southern front were more than an obvious solution in this situation. But not a single Armenian unit moved from its position. An incredible war in which one of the parties did not conduct a single offensive operation on the ground, limiting itself to only and exclusively passive defense.
A successful counteroffensive in the gorge in front of Lachin would grind so many Azerbaijani forces in the cauldron that they would not think about attacking Shusha for at least a couple of weeks. And later it was quite possible to destroy the Azerbaijani infantry in the Averatanots gorge. But for this to work, it was necessary to put an additional effort.
There is no explanation as to why the Armenian side did not even try to counterattack or use other methods of its operational advantage. The lack of resources can be endlessly referred to only in the last stages of hostilities, but the passive defense has been a constant tactic from the very beginning of the war.
5. Why was Shushi surrendered?
The most sensitive and incomprehensible question. The first assault on the city by the Azerbaijani infantry was extremely unsuccessful. Then, the second column of Azerbaijanis was covered by an attack by the MLRS. With some effort and assistance from Armenia, the Azerbaijani group that had broken through to the city could’ve been completely destroyed. Nevertheless, a decision was suddenly made to leave the city without a fight and not to make attempts to liberate it with a favorable operational-tactical situation still remaining for at least 24 hours.
It is believed that the decision to abandon Shushi was made by the NKR President Arayik Harutyunyan and the NKR Security Council Secretary-General Samvel Babayan, a local legend. Now, in protest against the signing of the armistice, he left his post and renounced the title of “Hero of Artsakh”. The Armenian YouTube channel Lurer (Novosti) published a recording of the negotiations between Babayan and Harutyunyan, from which it follows that General Babayan really assessed the possibility of recapturing Shushi even after it was abandoned, but painted a gloomy image for any future prospects of resistance.
Fragment of conversation (not literal translation): “Let’s calculate the (combat) mission. We cover Shushi with twenty, thirty volleys of “Smerch”. We kill everyone there. We take the city back. What’s next? The state of the army and the civilian population does not allow waging war. They fought, took Shushi, then what? (…) We cannot fight a NATO army, along with the mercenaries, fully equipped … Yesterday I tried to organize an operation with three battalions. We have four howitzers in total. If we are not provided with artillery, then how are we going to support the offensive or cut off its tails (the enemy – approx. Vzglyad)? (…) Today we must finally negotiate with Russia that we are surrendering these territories and leaving. Or they help us.
Imagine that we have two Grads for the whole army today, a dozen howitzers for which we have no shells. “
To summarize, General Babayan believed that resistance was useless at this stage of hostilities. We must abandon the continuation of the war and either surrender, or ask for ten days for an organized exit of the local population and the 30 thousand soldiers of the southern front who are completely surrounded. As an alternative, it was proposed to urgently ask Russia for direct military assistance in the form of PMCs or volunteers, equipment and ammunition.
But all this does not change the question of why a small group of Azerbaijani infantrymen without heavy equipment, which broke through to Shushi, was not destroyed before panic began in the Armenian army. The retention of Shushi would’ve created a completely different architecture of political agreements for NKR and Armenia. If this is a political decision, then who actually made it?
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This list of mysteries of the second Karabakh war is far from complete. In addition, a lot of the same questions about the preparation for war should be answered by the Armenian leadership. This war was lost even before it began, precisely because of Yerevan’s inaction or strange actions.
These questions will be asked a long time after the war has ended. The situation in the region has changed so radically over these forty days that all old approaches to resolving the conflict and to its military component are now gone. And the new reality will require new solutions for Armenia. And it is not yet clear who will make these decisions.