Former President Serzh Sarkisian believes that the outcome of four-day deadly clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh in April 2016 was an Armenian victory because Azerbaijan “failed to achieve any of its political goals” in that escalation.
Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on Wednesday, Sarkisian also described the 2016 escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh commonly known in Armenia as the “April war” as unavoidable.
Amid lingering questions about the circumstances of the April war in Armenian society the current parliament set up an ad hoc committee in 2019 to look into relevant issues.
Sarkisian, who served as president in 2008-2018 and was commander-in-chief of Armenia’s armed forces four years ago, was invited to testify before the committee on April 16.
Back then he refused to talk to the media, promising that he would devote a press conference to answer “all questions” regarding the April war.
At the beginning of the press conference – the first since his resignation in 2018 – Sarkisian read out his introductory remarks that he made before the committee in April.
In them he argued that the outcome of the April war in which scores of soldiers were killed on both sides was an Armenian victory. “Can anyone ground it in a specialized manner how it could be a victory for Azerbaijan that lost its elite units and a defeat for the Armenian side that showed numerous examples of unspeakable bravery to stop the large-scale aggression? Does anyone know from the entire history of mankind a single war in which only soldiers without commanders fought and won?” Sarkisian asked the committee members rhetorically.
The former leader said that like all other wars the 2016 escalation pursued its political goals. “A war is a continuation of politics with other methods. For the defending side a victory is when it manages to stop the adversary’s plans with minimum losses. No outcome can be satisfactory for the party committing the aggression if it does not achieve at least part of its political goals,” Sarkisian said.
“Azerbaijan’s top objective was to change the course of the negotiations. It wanted to prove that the problem does have a military solution,” said Sarkisian, adding that other goals of Azerbaijan included achieving a new ceasefire agreement that would eliminate Nagorno-Karabakh as a party and boosting morale in Azerbaijani society.
The former Armenian president said that Azerbaijan failed to achieve any of those goals. Moreover, he said that in fact during subsequent negotiations Azerbaijan was forced to agree to an Armenian proposal for the establishment of an international mechanism of investigating ceasefire violations. “By the way, this was one of the most important components of our government’s legacy,” said Sarkisian, who resigned in April 2018 amid widespread anti-government protests focused on domestic politics and corruption.
“Thus, as a result of launching aggression Azerbaijan suffered huge losses not only in the battlefield, but also in the diplomatic arena. It was proved that Azerbaijan is not able to solve the issue militarily,” Sarkisian underscored.
The former Armenian president expressed an opinion that it was not possible to prevent or avoid the war. “Azerbaijan was not ready for a compromise solution acceptable to us, because Azerbaijan was not ready – and I am sure is not ready now – to accept the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to determine the status of their country through an expression of their free will,” he said.
In the wake of the 2016 clashes Sarkisian admitted that Azerbaijan managed to seize hundreds of hectares of territory in what currently is a buffer zone around Nagorno-Karabakh, but downplayed the military significance of the loss.
The former leader said today that it was his decision not to seek to regain the lost ground and agree to a ceasefire in order to avoid further loss of life.
Answering questions of journalists Sarkisian described assertions that the Armenian military was under-equipped and was poorly supplied with food, fuel and ammunition during the 2016 skirmishes as “myths.”
He also defended his other statements, including the one he made shortly after the escalation about Armenians “fighting with weapons from the 1980s.”
That statement sparked criticism in Armenia about the perceived lack of modern weaponry in the arsenal of the country’s armed forces.
Sarkisian stressed that the context of the statement was different. “To make the purpose of that statement fully clear I’d like to remind you that it was made in Germany, immediately after the four-day war. Well-informed people know that Germany at that time chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). That statement indeed gave rise to many speculations first of all among people who have no clear understanding of what weapons from the 1980s mean. If we translate what I said from the diplomatic language, we’ll get as follows: ‘Dear OSCE members, regardless of your turning a blind eye on Azerbaijan’s being armed to the teeth, our soldiers are capable of defending their homeland’,” he said.
Sarkisian further stressed that all armies in the world, including the armies of the wealthiest and most prosperous nations, have weapons from the 1980s in their arsenals. “I can cite numerous examples, but I don’t want to go deep into that. I will only state that even today almost all armored vehicles, almost all firearms of the Armenian armed forces are from the 1980s. Let me also say that our army and many other armies even today have weapons from the 1940s and 1950s in their arsenals. This is the whole truth,” the former Armenian president said.
During the press conference Sarkisian refused to comment on other issues, including questions regarding the work of the parliamentary committee looking into the circumstances of the April war. He said he would do that after the committee publishes its report. Sarkisian also promised to hold separate press conferences on domestic political issues as well as the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.