What it was: war, military actions or sabotage? Which were the main objectives of Azerbaijani aggression in April 2016? Did we win or lose? How can we describe the current situation on the border? What is our next step? We talked about these and other issues to the military expert, Adviser to the Minister of Defense of the RA during April 2016 David Jamalyan.
– Mr. Jamalyan, how would you describe the April military actions: war, military actions or large-scale sabotage?
– Experts called it “4-day military actions”. Maybe the term “April war” is illustrative but from a military science perspective it is not correct. From legal and political point of view, the term “Azerbaijani second aggression against Artsakh” is the correct version.
Our society does not have a complete and correct idea about the April military actions. Moreover, there is some mess concerning the information over the Azerbaijani aggression and the outcomes thereof. The information chaos is conditioned by contradictory information and viewpoints concerning separate parts of military actions. So, it is important to give a chronographically clear, correct and complete picture, while preserving the regime of secrecy.
– Each military action has a specific goal. Which were the main objectives of Azerbaijani aggression in April 2016?
– I do not think that Azerbaijan hoped to occupy the entire territory of Artsakh. Practically it was impossible. Azerbaijan wanted to capture as much as possible and get advantageous position in the negotiation process. In their view, the realistic outcome would be to advance for 10-15km in all directions. The plan was to strike at the flanks, divert our forces to northeastern and southeastern directions and ultimately attack in the central direction. However, it did not work due to preventive artillery strikes of the Defense Army. I am sure Baku did not expect such an outcome from military actions. I would like to detail here.
I think that while waging the aggression president Aliyev had no idea about the real balance of power and level of preparedness of Artsakh Defense Army’s and their own armed forces. Supposedly, the decision was based on reports which were far from the reality. In authoritarian systems reports are often prepared in the way they would please the leadership rather than reflect the reality. On the Azerbaijani part, the April aggression was an adventure. I do not believe president Aliyev would go for that if he predicted such an outcome.
Nevertheless, I think the April combats have highly influenced Aliyevs’ clan. No matter whether the outcome is interpreted in Baku as victory or not, I suppose that their clan has lost faith in real victory.
President Aliyev has to continue victorious propaganda and raise the importance of occupied strongholds for at least two reasons. First of all, it aims at strengthening the faith among Transcaucasian Turks in defeating Armenians, overcoming the loser complex and preparing psychologically for new full-scale military actions. Secondly, Aliyev wants to make his power stronger in order to provide inheritance of power.
– A year passed since the April military actions. Have we used that time efficiently?
– I think yes. Immediately after military actions engineering works have been processed, the state border has been provided with surveillance systems (the process had started much earlier). It is noteworthy that respective departments of the Ministry of Defense have analyzed the April military actions and made necessary conclusions.
– As a military expert how would you assess the defensive actions of the Defense Army?
– Well done. Armenian armed forces applied active defense strategy and launched preventive strikes.
It is worth mentioning that the enemy failed to break our defense line despite the engagement of well-prepared forces. The outcome of military actions was successful for us and despite some reservations it could be considered as a victory. Anything that was possible to do in 3.5 days, was done. We should take into consideration that a full-scale war has been prevented in a very short period. In other words, the enemy has taken several strongholds but lost the battle, whereas we have lost some strongholds but won the battle.
Indeed, the loss of those strongholds was painful for us. Such a reaction from our society was quite logical. In this regard some points should be stressed.
First, that loss is recoverable and I am sure that our forces will take the loss back, as soon as the enemy provides such an occasion. Under such circumstances it is critically important to complete the mission without losses or with minimal losses.
Second, the more advanced our positions are, the easier it will be to stop the attack of the enemy during a large-scale war. However, it is noteworthy that despite the occupation of several strongholds of the first defensive echelon, the enemy did not get a tangible advantage. The integrity of the defense system has preserved and the state border has slightly changed.
In order to organize the defense under cease-fire regime, along the state border of Artsakh our forces have created a layer of echelonized defense system. The latter consists of several defense lines. On April 2, the enemy took some strongholds on the first line, but failed to advance more. In the post-April period, due to a wide-scale reinforcement, those strongholds have almost been completely surrounded by the Armenian forces, due to which the threat emanating from their loss has diminished. Of course, that does not mean that we do not need those strongholds anymore.
– Which are the main similarities and differences between the Artsakh war of 1991-1994 and the April military actions of 2016?
– I think it is more about differences rather than similarities. It was a clash between two regular armies, of which the first has prepared for attack for 22 years and the second one has prepared to resist and reinforce the victory. 22 years later the Azerbaijani army lost the battle. The difference is that the consequences of this failure have been relatively mild for the enemy.
The failure was apparent already on April 4 when the state border was parlty restored in the northeastern direction and the wide-scale attack was prevented in the Akna direction. Attack resources of the enemy were exhausted, and on April 4 its best crews were annihilated. After April 4 the enemy wanted to keep the taken strongholds at any price. Moreover, on April 4-5 each hour of military actions, without exaggeration, was making the consequences of the failure heavier. Realizing this circumstance forced the enemy to ask for cease-fire.
There is another difference, namely the tactic of large-scale military actions that the enemy resorted to. The Transcaucasian Turks wanted to provide maximum unexpectedness, something that is very difficult nowadays since it is impossible to accumulate huge forces on the state border unnoticeably. The enemy tried to solve that problem in the following way.
Since August, 2014 Azerbaijan has been accumulating armored technique, special forces and groups of snipers, resorting to sabotage, but there was no major attack. Simultaneously, the enemy was enlarging the caliber of applied artillery systems in order to make the launching of large-scale aggression easier. Bringing the forces, moving the artillery to the border and withdrawing constantly for two years aimed at distracting our attention and maximizing the unexpectedness at the very moment of aggression. I think the enemy hoped that because of the lasting expectation of wide-scale attack we would think that nothing would happen. In order to reach that unexpectedness the large-scale attack was launched without an artillery preparation. The enemy turned to artillery shelling only when our forces repulsed the first wave of the attack. However, as the crew of the subdivisions, fulfilling their military duty, was psychologically ready for large-scale attack, they assessed the situation and stopped the advancement of the enemy at the depth of platoon strongholds, i. e. in an area covering several hundred meters. Of course, the reorientation process had some flaws.
Our crew was skillful at repulsing sabotage, whereas neither the ordinary, nor the command staff of lower tactical circles (companies and battalions) had experience in full-scale military actions. Indeed, when dealing with almost real conditions in military exercises they have a common picture about full-scale military actions, but the crews of companies or battalions had never seen a real combat before. This partly lies behind the flaws during the first hours of the aggression.
But despite these flaws the enemy failed to advance more than some hundred meters. So, we can surely state that the staff of our subdivisions behaved bravely and skillfully. By the way, the command of platoon-company-battalion circles has now become experienced in large-scale military actions. Moreover, some outstanding conscripts have been offered a rank of lieutenant and now they serve as commanders of platoons.
– Mr. Jamalyan, nowadays they say that the April war confirmed Artsakh’s borders once more. In your opinion, will this circumstance bring new approaches towards the peace regulation process?
– The military actions resulted in the repulse of the Azerbaijani large-scale attack for the second time and in the re-establishment of Artsakh’s borders. After the April aggression new military-political realities emerged. Failing the second aggression against Artsakh, the official Baku legitimized Artsakh’s current borders. In this context, the Madrid proposals are anachronistic and should be ignored.
After the military actions in April president Aliyev lost his main tool for sabotage, i. e. the threat of quick and victorious war. In April it turned out that the combat capability of the Azerbaijani army had been highly exaggerated. Without underestimating the enemy it is obvious that president Aliyev cannot be persuasive with his demonstration of power anymore. This is another political-military consequence of the failed April aggression.
– Are you for the deployment of Russian or international peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone?
– Of course no. No peacekeeping force is more interested in protecting our borders than we are. The Defense Army of Artsakh will always be the most efficient peacekeeping force.
– How can you describe the current situation on the border? Did the April events change our defense policy priorities?
– As the activity of snipers and sabotage groups shows, the situation on the state border is still constantly tense and volatile. The tension is growing, so we have to be ready. In fact, Azerbaijan is playing the scenario prior to April events, that is keeping the tensions all the time in order to make a new aggression and wide-scale attack easier.
I think it would be a big mistake to exclude a new aggression. We should not deceive ourselves and distort the reality, since unfortunately in the near future sustainable and lasting peace is impossible. In order not to be surprised, to be able to mobilize quickly, stop the enemy and enforce peace out of our borders, we should psychologically be ready for such an aggression. Last year in April we saw that the readiness of the society is the key to a successful repulse of the aggression.
– In your opinion how did soldiers and officers, privates and commanders behave during the April military actions?
– Obviously, the soldier wants to have a courageous and balanced commander in the battlefield. The experience shows that the staff respects only those commanders who are devoted to their job, humane and at the same time rigorous towards their subordinates and run the staff operations in the battlefield. Outstanding commanders of the April fighting meet exactly the same criteria.
When the soldiers see a high official in the trench, they feel protected and self-confident. In April, this was the case too. Generally, the April military actions are full of examples of professionalism and courage.
– Mr. Jamalyan, what is our next step?
– To be ready for any kind of scenario. We should not indulge in illusions. The official Baku has not refrained from forceful measures and maximizing the outcome with force. I think that although the idea of occupying Artsakh seems to be hard now, but it would not be correct to say that Azerbaijan has abandoned that intention. After April the enemy was busy restoring the combat capability of its armed forces. Indeed, preparing new staff is time-taking, however Azerbaijan is obviously preparing for a new war. Therefore, the probability of renewed large-scale military actions is high. Baku will refrain from aggressive pretensions only in case of territorial losses. There is no other way out. Because of Turkish-Azerbaijani neighborhood the political-military environment around Armenia will never be favorable for us. Therefore, making that environment secure will remain our main priority.
By Vladimir Poghosyan