By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
While the Azerbaijani army was showcasing its weapons on a promotional video during exercises on Sept. 18-22, 2017, observers noticed Czech-made military hardware, including DANA howitzer artillery pieces (11-mile range) and Rm-70 rocket launchers (12-mile range).
Initially, it was not known how these weapons arrived in Baku, given the fact that the Czech Republic had not issued any permits to its manufacturers to sell such hardware to Azerbaijan. Under the laws of the Czech Republic, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Interior have to approve requests for weapon sales proposed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Also, the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had recommended that their member states not supply arms to Azerbaijan and Armenia due to the Artsakh conflict.
In addition, weapon sales to Azerbaijan would violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 853, adopted on July 29, 1993, which urged member states “to refrain from the supply of any weapons and munitions which might lead to the intensification of the [Karabagh] conflict or the continued occupation of territory.” Already several countries had violated this Security Council resolution, including Israel, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, and Pakistan.
In response, Jan Pejsek, the Czech Defense Ministry spokesman stated that the “Ministry had not approved any military exports to Azerbaijan.” Meanwhile, Irena Valentova, spokeswoman for the Czech Foreign Ministry, told the Prague Daily Monitor that “no permits were issued for export of military materiel to Azerbaijan, while some licenses for the export of modernized self-propelled gun howitzers Dana-M1 and rocket launchers RM-70 were rejected in 2016-2017 and the EU partner countries were notified of the rejection.”
In 2016, “Azerbaijan purchased non-lethal weapons worth over one million euros from the Czech Republic, which is three times less than three years ago,” the Hospodarske Noviny reported.
In the past, when Azerbaijan had tried to import weapons from the Czech Republic, it was refused a permit for such military shipments.
The Prague Daily Monitor reported that the “Czech authorities and secret services are investigating how Czech arms … reached the Caucasus.”
In the meantime, The Slovak Spectator revealed on April 17, 2018 that “Bratislava [capital of Slovakia] airport is used as a transit point for smuggling Czech rocket launchers and howitzers to Azerbaijan…. The weapons are reportedly produced by the Czechoslovak Group Holding, owned by Czech Jaroslav Strnad, according to Czech Television…. An employee of the Slovak arms factory MSM spoke up and described how the old weapons are rebuilt in the Trenčín-based company and are then transported via Israel to Azerbaijan, the TASR newswire reported.”
The MSM employee further described to the reporters of the Czech Television, as quoted by TASR, according to The Slovak Spectator: “The whole process starts with bringing the old DANA howitzer that is disassembled directly in the company…. The new facilities, including navigation, camera and communication systems were sent from Israel, the employee added. He also revealed that they signed a contract for distributing 18 howitzers and 15 rocket launchers this year, and the same amount next year, as reported by TASR…. The company confirmed the delivery of DANA-M1 and RM-70 systems to Israel.”
The Slovak Spectator “even recorded one such transport on camera” confirming the delivery of the weapons to Israel and from there smuggled to Azerbaijan. “The transport of one rocket launcher started on December 27, 2017, and was carried by a truck from Trenčín to the Bratislava airport, where it was moved to the plane owned by Azerbaijani airlines, Silk Way. It then flew to Tel Aviv in Israel, where the company Elbit, which was described as the end customer, is located. The data then revealed that the plane continued to Baku in Azerbaijan. Nothing is unloaded in Israel; there is only a stop to make sure the papers are correct,” the employee of MSM told the Czech Television. “The plane flies directly from the Israeli airport to Azerbaijan,” The Slovak Spectator wrote.
I suggest that Armenian officials immediately file protests with the governments of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Israel for circumventing their export provisions and violating the bans recommended by the EU, OSCE and the UN Security Council regarding the sale of weapons to Azerbaijan.
If such complaints are not filed, these three countries and several others will be encouraged to ship more lethal weapons to Azerbaijan which will be used to kill and injure Armenian soldiers and civilians.