Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian on Thursday urged volunteers from Armenia to stop trying to join Nagorno-Karabakh’s army for now, saying that it has already been sufficiently reinforced in recent days.
Thousands of such volunteers, many of them veterans of the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, flocked to Karabakh after the Azerbaijani army launched an offensive along the “line of contact” around the disputed territory on Saturday.
Some of them were handed weapons and uniforms in Armenia before heading to Stepanakert and being deployed at various sections of the Karabakh frontline. They are mostly members of the influential Yerkrapah Union comprising war veterans and younger Armenians with military experience.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed Defense Army has been in no rush to deploy many other volunteers arriving from Armenia. It called up many Karabakh Armenian reservists immediately after the escalation.
Ohanian, himself a prominent war veteran, heaped praise on the volunteers with a written statement that was apparently aimed at stopping their influx for the time being.
“Since the Defense Army command appealed to me and, along with words of gratitude, said that all of its detachments have already been reinforced with personnel, the other volunteers … should keep up preparations and leave for Artsakh (Karabakh) if need be,” he said.
“We do need audacious comrades-in-arms,” added Ohanian. “Let that audacity and vigilance always stay with you. By staying here in Armenia, you should always remain prepared because our struggle will be continuous.”
“In necessary, we will inform you and you will definitely go to Artsakh to ensure the security of our compatriots there,” stressed the Karabakh-born minister.
The Defense Army has also been joined by scores of Karabakh Armenian volunteers. “Our soldiers are in high spirits but we want to raise them further,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) at an army position in southeastern Karabakh on Thursday.
“Peace will return to our land,” said the middle-aged man holding a Kalashnikov rifle. “We have nowhere to go. We were born here and are ready to die here.”
Young conscripts serving there also sounded bullish about taking on Azerbaijani forces. “We are 170 centimeters tall but a bullet is only 5.45 millimeters [in diameter,]” said one of them. “Why should we be scared of bullets?”
“People [volunteers] don’t have to come here,” added the soldiers. “We are standing firm. All the guys here are in high spirits.”