In the course of the clashes that took place from April 2 to 5 of this year, the Azerbaijani side, using a limited contingent of units, which also had a strict time limit in the general geopolitical context of the region and the interests of external actors, had to
a) carry out reconnaissance in force at brigade level
b) break through the enemy's defense line, the so-called Ohanyan line, and seize important operational and strategic footholds in East Murovdag (north) and in the area of Mount Leletepe (south)
c) destroy as many enemy troops and military equipment as possible, thus reducing their losses to a minimum.
According to retired Armenian general and veteran of the Karabakh war, Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, the successful outcome of this reconnaissance in force was already obvious in the first days after the restoration of the truce. The Azerbaijani Armed Forces have achieved all of the goals set for them. At the same time, according to the results of offensive clashes, from April 2 to 5 of this year the Azerbaijani Armed Forces lost about 80-90 soldiers and officers, one Mi-24 attack helicopter (its crew also died), and one tank, which was damaged by a mine. On the other hand, Armenia lost 125 soldiers and officers, 14 tanks, four infantry fighting vehicles, 17 artillery pieces and multiple rocket launcher systems, up to 20 light armored vehicles, and more than 10 trucks and cars.
Indeed, there are some controversies. For example, whether only one Azerbaijani tank was damaged or two. The number of dead from both sides may also vary by -10/+20 people. Still, now, six months later, these statistics are considered to be more or less stable and generally accepted by all major third-party sources.
In this connection, I want to make one remark before continuing. On the evening of April 5, one of the authors of this article was at a round table in one of the European capitals. It was dedicated to the issue of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. He spoke with a retired NATO general. The conversation began when the general quietly approached our colleague, patted him on the shoulder and said: "Congratulations to the Azerbaijanis. All the tasks have been completed. Good job." When asked how he could know all that, he replied: "We see everything from the top." It seems that it was not an allegory, and he meant the ability to monitor the situation in the conflict zones in real time via satellites.
As you can see, all of the things we mentioned above are part of the materially tangible plain of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. But only if we view this issue in the short term. Half a year later, the long-term effects of the April reconnaissance can be seen more clearly. And these long-term effects, as usually happens, are rather immaterial, intangible, and are part of the moral and psychological state of the societies and political elites. Nevertheless, maybe that's why these intangible effects have as much impact on overall battle strategy as burning Armenian tanks, headquarters and control points. We will talk about this in detail below.
On the morning of April 4, when the last 24 hours of active clashes were under way, Azerbaijani units had already entrenched near the borders in the northern (Terter - Agder) and southern (Fuzuli - Jabrail) directions. On this day, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan officially declared the following at a meeting with the ambassadors of the member states of the OSCE: "The latest manifestation of Azerbaijan's arrogant behavior was the statement made by the Ministry of Defence of that country, which said, as if based on the policy of peace, that Baku is unilaterally ceasing hostilities 'against the enemy and is beginning to strengthen the defense of the liberated areas'. I assure you that, at the moment, the Azerbaijani side has only seized a small area in the south and an equally small area in the north along the entire perimeter of the contact line. I hope that, before we end our talks, the Azerbaijanis won't have this area in the north. Its size is around 200 - 300 meters.
On April 5, with the mediation of Moscow and by mutual agreement, the sides signed a truce. Just in case, the mutual agreement was supported by the fact that the Russian side had put the motorized rifle brigade stationed in Dagestan on alert. But passive hostilities continued for a few more days.
Then there was a famous statement by the Armenian opposition activist and veteran of the first Karabakh war Zhirayr Sefilyan. Sefilyan was the first to acknowledge "700 hectares" lost by the Armenians. And while Armenian society tried to accept it, on May 17, at a press conference with Armenian reporters, President Sargsyan confirmed what was said earlier by Sefilyan – Azerbaijani units during the conflict seized not even 700, but 800 hectares of land that was previously under the control of Armenian troops (the Azerbaijani side uses figure of 2,000 hectares – the truth might be in the middle).
It was Michel Foucault who pointed out that, while describing psychological states, one of the main problems is the verbalization, in other words assigning definition, which corresponds to observed characteristics, to a particular state. Of course, this is also relevant for the moral and psychological state of societies, especially societies in a state of war. There is, of course, a certain set of terms such as "euphoria", "intoxication" or "shock", "hysteria". We won't use any of these terms. Instead, we suggest that you read some comments on Sargsyan's statement about the 800 hectares that were lost. The most demonstrative and, one might say, versatile example is a comment by one of the users under the nickname Ruzanna (quite an active user on several Armenian forums and social networks): "How did it happen? On Voskanapat, we all deny the fact that we lost positions, even without the official data, in order to avoid demoralization among our people, and our president simply says that these lands have no tactical or strategic value." Readers can find several others comments and handpick a term that can describe the moral and psychological state of Armenian society at that time.
We, the authors of this article, due to our profession, consider ourselves to be people who are well informed and knowledgeable on this topic. And we have no doubt that Armenian society is still in the same state as it was six months ago. At the same time, there are also knowledgeable and well informed people in Armenian society. And they also do their job. And they understand that in history, at least on the side of history that we discuss in this article, the most important thing is who was the last to win. We have already wrote once that April was only a small victory, because the status quo has not changed in terms of the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh by the Armenians. But April was enough to deal with the negativity that Azerbaijani society had because of 1994. They also know about this on the other side of the informational trenches. They failed to misquote the facts due to the clear, undeniable and very unfavorable objective reality – they lost territories, the country's leadership recognized it, Armenian propaganda can only use a few photos and videos of Azerbaijani soldiers who died near the village of Talish, as well as what was left of the downed Azeri Mi-24. There is nothing that can be used by them for a believable lie. And actions like the attempts by Gagik Shamshyan to pass off photos of destroyed Armenian armored vehicles as Azerbaijani are simply disgusting, and were quickly stopped by his own curators on Baghramyan Square as a sign of disrespect to the Armenian soldiers and officers who died in the April clashes.
Accordingly, after recovering from the initial shock, the Armenian political establishment decided to change the essence of events for the longer term. Our observations suggest that at this point the Armenian propaganda machine is working hard to introduce the following into the consciousness of the internal and external auditors:
a) the April clashes weren't a limited reconnaissance in force, but a full-scale offensive operation by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces that wanted to completely liberate Nagorno-Karabakh
b) the losses of the Armenian side were high, but the Armenian side, after preparing for a powerful counterattack, was stopped by "treacherous Moscow"
c) It was the Azerbaijani side that asked for a truce and the mediation of Moscow, because it anticipated Armenia's readiness to begin a counterattack. In other words, another Armenian myth is being promoted – this time it is the myth about a "stolen victory".
Let's talk about this in detail.
First let's discuss the thesis that the April clashes weren't a limited reconnaissance in force, but a full-scale offensive operation by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces that wanted to completely liberate Nagorno-Karabakh. This contradicts the words of a man, who, to put it mildly, cannot be suspected of not knowing what war is or in sympathizing with Azerbaijanis. We are talking about an interview with an Armenian general, a veteran of the first Karabakh war, Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, to which we referred at the beginning of this material. Here's what he thinks about it: "I think that the Armenian media are not covering these events properly. They spread official reports that these were large-scale aggressive actions of Azerbaijan against Armenia. All officials, including the Ministry of Defense. But this is not 1945, for an enemy to attack using tanks and infantry. It is 2016 already, and we have an opportunity to learn from the experience of events in Yugoslavia, and 'Operation Desert Storm'. In other words, every period dictates its own conditions of warfare. According to military experts, this is already the sixth, seventh, eighth stage of the development of military science and military art. What is this science and this art? They imply that any side must use missile and artillery strikes before attacking. Georgia, for example, inflicted similar strikes during the attack on South Ossetia. We see the same thing everywhere. But it didn't really happen this time. The enemy had the goals of finding out what our targets and means are, what capabilities we have. And they achieved their goal. Their next task is they must study all of it and then take the second step. Yes, we managed to heroically defend our positions, retrieve them (the interview dates back to April 4, 2016), our people are very patriotic from the first day of the formation of our country, a lot of volunteers are going there... But they have already achieved their goal, the Azerbaijani side wanted to simulate a large-scale offensive attack, and this is called reconnaissance in force. If it was a real full-scale offensive attack, the enemy would have no losses at all and ours would be much higher, at least in the early days of the attack. The enemy would bomb Karabakh for several days without stopping. Towns and the capital, using missiles and artillery. Those missile and artillery strikes that were inflicted don't indicate a full-scale attack by the Azerbaijani side."
Then there is a second thesis that the losses of the Armenian side were high, but the Armenian side, after preparing for a powerful counterattack, was stopped by "treacherous Moscow". This thesis can easily be disproved if we go back to Sargsyan's interview of May 17. In addition to confirming the loss of 800 hectares of land, he makes another interesting point: "Believe me, our armed forces were able to restore the status quo. It was a matter of choice – are these 800 hectares worth the lives of 35-40 or even 80 patriots?" The context of what he said suggests that even if the Armenian Armed Forces "were able to restore the status quo," the counter-attack, if it was planned at all, was not launched not because of Moscow's pressure, but... because they made this choice due to fear of even greater losses. Otherwise, Sargsyan could hint, using the words "peaceful nature", "pressure of mediators", or something like that. It would shed light on Yerevan's position, without the risk of damaging the military-political union with Russia. Instead, Sargsyan essentially acknowledged the fear of the Armenian side, and even lied that "the lost territories were just a buffer zone and had no value." So this thesis contradicts official Yerevan's position at the highest level in several points.
Finally, the third thesis is that it was the Azerbaijani side that asked for a truce and the mediation of Moscow, because it anticipated Armenia's readiness to begin a counterattack. The refutation of this thesis is logically tied to the refutation of the first and second theses. First of all, the Azerbaijani side proposed, but didn’t ask for a truce, and not at the last moment, but on April 3. "In response to the insistent appeals of the international structures and as a result of the peaceful policy of the country, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces are unilaterally stopping counterattacks and counter measures against the enemy in the occupied territories and have decided to begin organizational activities to strengthen the defense of the liberated territories," this statement was issued by the press service of Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry. The date and tone of this statement suggest that all the combat tasks were fulfilled by the end of the first day and a half of the clashes. And Baku was already satisfied with the status quo at that time. Secondly, the Armenian side claimed that it launched a counterattack on April 3. But there were sources that reported about a successful counterattack on April 2. Other sources reported the same on April 4. So basically, starting from April 2, every day the Armenians reported about "successful counterattacks", accompanying these messages with statistics about "dozens of burned-out Azerbaijani tanks", which is still not confirmed by any photos or videos. And they all cited the Ministry of Defense. Once again, this information that the Armenian forces "have retrieved the lost positions" contradicts Sargsyan's confession made on May 17.
Indeed, the Armenian side can use a strange counterargument that we are talking about a successful counterattack by the Armenians that took place on April 2-4, not about the one that was prepared. And that's why on April 3 the Azerbaijani side asked for a truce, thus keeping these 800 hectares after retreating. But then again, it does not correspond to Armenian reports about losses of the Azerbaijani side – if the Armenian side "liberated" any territories, then Armenian propaganda would have much more documented evidence of Azerbaijani losses, not just photos and videos of six or seven Azerbaijani soldiers who were killed near Talysh, as well as what remained after the Azerbaijani helicopter was downed. They should have at least something, a few Azerbaijani tanks, infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers. At least something should have remained in the territories "liberated" by the Armenians! But there is only silence…
That's the myth about a "stolen victory." One more thing. Immediately after April 5, the Armenian side began a massive purge in the leadership of the Armed Forces. First, they fired the Deputy Defense Minister, responsible for logistics, Alik Mirzabekyan, the head of Communications Service, Major-General Komitas Muradyan, and the chief of the Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, Major-General Arshak Karapetyan. Then they arrested the chief of the Transportation Service of the Armenian Armed Forces, David Abrahamyan. Those are just events that can be found in public sources. All the signs indicate that the search for those to blame continues. But personally, we are aware of only one case in military history when the side that won started purges in the high command, after learning the lessons from errors of successful military operations. We are talking about the Israelis after they won in the 1973 war. By the end of this short war, the Israelis returned all the areas in Sinai and Golan that they lost in the first days, crossed Suez, reached Cairo on the Egyptian front and Damascus on the Syrian front. But where were the Armenian troops on April 5? Near Terter? Near the eastern entrance to Ganja? On the banks of the Kura? No. The war of October 1973 is an exception, rather the rule.
But let's return to the psychology of societies and what is happening in the minds of Armenians right now... After the victory in the first Karabakh war, Armenian society signed a sort of pact with the Karabakh clan that entered the country's leadership. Basically, this pact meant that the Armenians will have to bear with the status of economic outsiders in the South Caucasus, a total loss of sovereignty in foreign and partly in domestic policies, isolation from every infrastructure, transport, transport-energy projects that affect the region, rapid depopulation and emigration of the most able-bodied population abroad (which even threats national security in recent years) and many other things, which completely devalue the 1994 victory. In return, it was implied that, sooner or later, or due to the fact that time will be in favor of the occupier, or due to external security guarantees, or due to the efforts of Armenians worldwide, or due to all of these factors together, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh will finally be resolved in favor "the outpost country."
Today, in 2016, many things can be said about rationality or irrationality of such deal between Armenians as a nation and their military and political elite. The role of external actors in the implementation of this pact is also interesting. Even though Armenians are intelligent, insightful and gifted in many ways, the role of myths in the Armenian world outlook is very large, and the Armenian society has finally realized where it is, or where it stuck, only in September of 2013. Or when Armenia was basically forced to integrate into the Eurasian Union structures. This moment more or less coincides with the time when slow but steady change in the military balance in favor of Azerbaijan has become much more clear. The arms race and war of attrition at the front very quickly began to bear its fruits, especially in terms of moral and psychological state of the Armenian society.
At one time, there were very high hopes for the Armenian diaspora, especially its Western part. But diasporas are unable to function by themselves in terms of global politics, they are highly dependent on political elites and societies of the countries where they live. Armenian diaspora is even more difficult case - it looks like it is not interested in anything apart from the issue of recognition of "the Armenian genocide." Accordingly, in the current situation, when the West is very passive in the South Caucasus hopes for the diaspora are no longer justified.
The context of the situation in the Middle East, rapprochement between Turkey and Russia on the one hand, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan on the other, aggravate the situation even more. And all of this happens on the background of the fact that Azerbaijan currently manages to buy the most modern weapons from Russia, Turkey, Israel and Iran - only very good diplomacy, backed by serious (not just financial) attractiveness of the country as a partner, may result in such diversified portfolio of military procurements. Can we compare it to the current state of Armenia's foreign policy? This question is rhetorical.
But still, the pact that we mentioned above was adhered to. Until April 2016. Until April 2016, the Armenian society believed in "invincible spirit of Armenian warrior." Yes, it was impossible to hide obvious change in the balance of powers in favor of Azerbaijan, which only marginals did not want to understand. After all, "Azerbaijanis already had more weapons and equipment than us once." After all, "we, Armenians, already got used to hardships, we can endure it for another 20 years, if it means that Karabakh is ours" and so on. April became a cold shower. Armenians saw that everything that they believed in since 1994 turned out to be not so durable. By the way, in addition to the overall success of military operations during the April clashes, the Azerbaijani side also carried out two demonstration actions of psychological intimidation. There is either nothing about this, or just some hints... We just had to "break some stereotypes."
That's why when they failed to lie about victory in April, the Armenian side, as we described above, has started to promote the myth about "stolen victory". After April, it plays paramount role in the artificial construction of modern Armenian political mythology, which serves anyone, but the interests of the Armenian society. Considering current situation, this construction, along with an increasingly illusive external security guarantees, is currently the only thing that keeps the Armenian statehood intact.
It is unknown whether of Armenians believe in or will believe in this nonsense. Perhaps they will. They can pretend to believe it, while continuing to leave the country. Or maybe they won't make it in time - April, as we mentioned, was just a reconnaissance in force.
In conclusion we would like to note that in addition to internal component of "stolen victory", there is also an important, yet not so clear side, which still deadly for Armenian themselves. There are signs that Armenia began to send certain message to the West. Recall, we are talking about victory that was supposedly "stolen" by Moscow. It is too early to make unequivocal statements on this matter. But in general, there are certain parallels between the behavior of the Armenian leadership during the recent events around 'Sasna Tsrer' group and its behavior during protests over brutal murder of Armenian family in Gyumri by Russian soldiers, as well as 'Electric Yerevan' protests. Biography of some members of 'Sasna Tsrer' also suggests a number of ideas. If what we think happens, in Armenia's present condition, in the current geopolitical context of the region, it may cost Armenia a lot.