The commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian-backed armed forces said on Sunday they dealt a heavy blow to Azerbaijani troops during last week’s deadly fighting around the disputed territory and will not hesitate to take more “punitive” actions in the future.
In an interview with Karabakh television, Lieutenant General Moves Hakobian also claimed that the Karabakh Defense Army exposed Azerbaijan’s inability to defeat the Armenians on the battlefield. “There is a change in weapons, but I don’t see any changes in their actions,” he said of the Azerbaijani military. “The actions are the same as they were in 1992-1994: poorly planned and reckless.”
The general, who played a major role in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, referred to the latest upsurge in fighting on the Karabakh “line of contact,” which followed the July 31 killing of two Armenian soldiers in what the authorities in Stepanakert called an Azerbaijani incursion. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry denied attacking Karabakh Armenian positions, while acknowledging the death of one of its soldiers.
Eight other Azerbaijani soldiers were shot dead near Karabakh the following night in what the ministry called a failed Armenian commando raid. The Azerbaijani army suffered at least four more casualties on August 2. The official Armenian combat death tool since July 31 stands at 5.
Hakobian acknowledged that his forces took “certain punitive actions” in order to “tell the enemy that this path is leading to [the war of] 1992-1994.” “Our special units accomplished their tasks brilliantly, and we are going to carry on like this,” he said.
Asked by the Karabakh TV channel whether more such operations could happen in the future, Hakobian said, “We will do what we think is right so that the enemy refrains from such actions. This will take different forms … including preemptive measures.”
President Ilham Aliyev and other Azerbaijani leaders regularly threaten to reconquer Karabakh and surrounding Armenian-controlled territories. They say that Azerbaijan’s decade-long massive military buildup will force the Armenians to give up those lands.
Citing the outcome of the latest fighting, Hakobian insisted, however, that the Azerbaijani army is still no match to its Armenian adversary. “The enemy remains the same,” he said. “Only some of its weapons have changed.”
The Karabakh Armenian general claimed that another Armenian-Azerbaijani war would only increase casualties from both sides. “There would be no change in our borders,” he said. “If anything changes, it would change at the expense of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.”
The number of Armenian and Azerbaijani combat deaths has already risen significantly this year. Each side blames for the increased loss of life.
Hakobian said Zakir Hasanov, Azerbaijan’s longtime interior troops commander appointed as defense minister last October, is primarily to blame for the heightened tension on the frontlines. He speculated that Hasanov ordered his troops to step up cross-border incursions and sniper fire to stamp his authority on the Azerbaijani army. Baku is thus also seeking to pressurize international mediators into seeking more Armenian concessions in the long-running peace talks, added Hakobian.
Aliyev’s top foreign policy aide, Novruz Mammadov, dismissed such claims on Monday. Speaking to Azerbaijan’s ANS television, Mammadov argued that both Aliyev and Hasanov were not in the country when the latest escalation began.