When Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan praised the fighting spirit of Armenian soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh last weekend, he said that no one of them would flee the battlefield or retreat in the face of Azerbaijani aggression earlier this month, fighting “till the last bullet”.
After this figure of speech allowed in front of a group of journalists at the Armenian Genocide Memorial at Tsitsernakaberd on April 24, the defense chief hurried to make a clarification: “And I don’t mean that they have been running out of ammo.”
Ohanyan’s clarification is symptomatic as it shows just how sensitive the issue of proper armament and ammunition supply has been in Armenia since the four-day war with Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh on April 2-5.
Ninety-two Armenian soldiers lost their lives and more than 120 were wounded in fierce battles resisting Baku’s aggression against Karabakh – the largest and most intense since a 1994 ceasefire.
Oil-rich Azerbaijan that has been stockpiling modern offensive weaponry of Russian, Israeli and Turkish make in recent years due to its petrodollars unleashed some of its deadliest force against the Karabakh military as well as civilian population, using such lethal weapons as TOS-1A heavy flame throwers, Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers, unmanned aerial vehicles, including Harop “kamikaze” drones, and others.
Armenia’s civil society representatives and political circles, including many pro-government lawmakers, have been critical of Russia, Yerevan’s top military and political ally, for selling lethal weapons to Azerbaijan. But what angered many and triggered a public debate in Armenia was the statement made by President Serzh Sargsyan, who, apparently trying to show the valor of Armenian soldiers and the support that the military enjoys from society, said, while visiting Germany on April 6, that Armenian soldiers were confronting Azerbaijan with “weapons of the 1980s.”
Defense Ministry officials later explained that the Armenian armed forces possessed all the necessary modern means to keep Azerbaijan at bay, but the social media had already picked at the phrase, accusing the country’s leadership of not doing enough to ensure a due defense level.
On April 26, in a move apparently conditioned by recent hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh and related to public criticism, President Sargsyan issued decrees dismissing three generals from their senior army positions. Among the sacked officials was the deputy defense minister in charge of material-technical procurements that includes the supply of the armed forces with weapons and ammunition.
No official reasoning was presented for the move, but the political and expert community had no doubts – the sackings reflected frustration of the political leadership with some of the aspects of the war preparedness. Many opposition members and civil activists welcomed the move, calling for more dismissals.
Before issuing the orders, President Sargsyan, who, under the Constitution, is also the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, on several occasions also publicly praised Armenian soldiers. He also traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh and personally awarded about three dozen soldiers and officers with medals for bravery and heroism in the battlefields.
While criticizing the military, political and diplomatic leadership of the country for mistakes and omissions during the four-day war, all political and civil forces in Armenia appear to agree on one thing – it was first of all the battlefield bravery that thwarted Azerbaijan’s blitzkrieg attempt.
As the conflict seems to be returning to a more or less trench warfare status after the early April escalation, there also seems to be an increased sense in the Armenian society that while allies and diplomacy are important, tranquility in the region and the very future of the Armenian nation primarily hinge on the strength of the military at the frontlines.
To this testify the various initiatives to provide financial, material and moral support to conscripts, contractual soldiers and volunteers carrying out their routine frontline duties that frequently include skirmishes with the adversary.
In 1940, when Great Britain was fighting off Nazi Germany’s aggression all but alone, the nation’s then prime minister Winston Churchill famously said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
These words of one of the Second World War’s victorious warlords appear to resonate with the prevailing public sentiments in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh today.
Addressing her colleagues in parliament earlier this week, opposition lawmaker Zaruhi Postanjyan stated that while Armenia is a guarantor of Nagorno-Karabakh’s security by the 1994-95 truce agreements, Armenia’s security and existence today are, in fact, being “guaranteed” by Nagorno-Karabakh.