April battles: Beginning of historic victory
By Vugar Khalilov
One of the glorious pages in Azerbaijan's Karabakh war history, the 2016 April battles later dubbed the four-day war, bolstered a national soldier's combat spirit and paved the way for the ultimate victory gained by Azerbaijan over Armenia in 2020.
These battles demonstrated that the Azerbaijani people and state will never accept the occupation and Azerbaijan once again declared to the enemy that it would restore its territorial integrity at any cost. Four years later, the Azerbaijani Army has made history and ensured the country's territorial integrity.
On April 2, 2016, intensive artillery shelling of Azerbaijani frontline positions and settlements by the Armenian armed forces made the counter-offensive necessary.
As a result of four-day battles, the Azerbaijani army liberated several strategically important heights and restored control over 2,000 hectares of land. The positions in the direction of Tartar region's Talish village and Sugovushan settlement, Jabrayil region's Lalatapa height and Jojug Marjanli village, as well as Goranboy region's Gulustan village, were cleared of enemy forces.
The threat to the lives of Jojug Marjanli resisdents in the Jabrayil region was completely eliminated following the liberation of the Lalatapa height.
Strategic importance of battles
The breakdown of Armenia's defense line, which had previously been depicted as an "impassable barrier" in Azerbaijan's former occupied territories, was a strategically significant victory. Many people, including local and foreign experts, see the April battles as a dress rehearsal for the 44-day battle in 2020.
The operation carried out in response to Armenian provocations, was critical in revealing the balance of forces, clarifying the geopolitical landscape, and the range of interests and interests of regional powers.
The status quo, e.g. the occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories, completely satisfied Armenia and most of the major world and regional powers. Indeed, the April battles might be viewed as an attempt to bring the invading Armenia to peace.
Following the April battles, the Armenian military-political leadership began to make peace pledges, which it later rejected, and the negotiations became more intense.
The Armenian government, on the other hand, used a variety of strategies to slow down the process, postpone the resolution of the conflict, and, if feasible, leave it to time. But time worked in Azerbaijan’s favor.
The battles also speeded up the military reforms carried out in the Azerbaijani army.
Military-political expert Col Jalil Khalilov noted that the 2016 battles were extremely effective in modernizing the Azerbaijani army, increasing its defence and offensive capabilities, equipping it with modern military equipment and strengthening the personnel’s combat skills.
The April battles demonstrated that the Azerbaijani armed forces' efforts to promptly and efficiently coordinate the actions of all types of troops and military units, as well as to supervise the activities of all military units from a single command center, were highly successful, Khalilov added.
These fights have demonstrated that a military solution to the problem is feasible and that this option offers more tangible outcomes than failed diplomatic dialogue.
One of the most significant consequences of the April battles was that Azerbaijan gained a military-psychological advantage, and stereotypes formed after the 1994 ceasefire agreement were shattered.
Until 2016, many thought that the new war would not change the status quo. This view, which had been in place for more than 20 years changed dramatically. The Azerbaijani army showed its combat skills and capabilities on the battlefield. This was the first major psychological blow to both Armenia and its supporters after the ceasefire (1994).
Despite the lack of progress in the negotiations after the cessation of hostilities, both international experts and parties in the negotiation process understood that Armenia was in an increasingly difficult situation.
Many events that took place from 2016 to 2020, in fact, showed that Azerbaijan was mobilizing all its resources to liberate its lands. Undoubtedly, Armenia was also preparing for war and this preparation was based on the euphoria of "punishing Azerbaijan for the last time".
Armenia desired to increase the size of the occupied territories (as evidenced by a well-known statement made by Armenia's defense minister in the United States at the time).
In Armenia and Azerbaijan, the level of moral and psychological readiness of the army, as well as the people, was different; the steps taken to increase military power corresponded with economic opportunities (the economic potential of Azerbaijan and Armenia is incomparably different); and finally, Azerbaijan was preparing for the war of the 21st century, while Armenia was still stuck in the distant 90s.
Although developments in Armenia following the change of administration initially created expectations for peace, these hopes were eventually proven to be baseless.
Strikes by Armenian troops against Azerbaijani military positions and civilian settlements in September 2020 triggered the conflict.
Azerbaijan's operations in response to large-scale attacks soon ended with the dismantling of the Armenian army and the liberation of hundreds of cities and villages.
The trilateral ceasefire deal signed by the Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian leaders on November 10, 2020, ended the three-decade conflict over Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region along with the seven adjacent districts that came under the occupation of Armenian armed forces in the war in the early 1990s.
The deal stipulated the return of Azerbaijan's Kalbajar, Aghdam and Lachin regions. Before the signing of the peace deal, Azerbaijan liberated 300 villages, settlements, city centers, and historic Shusha city that had been under Armenian occupation for about 30 years.
The statement also envisaged the construction of new transport communications connecting the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and the western regions of Azerbaijan. This was, in fact, an act of capitulation by Armenia.
In light of the foregoing, the April 2016 fights yielded a variety of strategic outcomes that culminated in the historic triumph in 2020.
The myth of invincibility about the Armenian army received a serious blow for the first time and the obvious superiority of the Azerbaijani army on the battlefield was confirmed.
Azerbaijan significantly strengthened its diplomatic positions in the negotiation process.
From a moral and psychological standpoint, it has shattered the "winning status" that had developed in Armenian society, as well as in the political and military elite, over many years.
Azerbaijan has made a tremendous contribution to promoting national unity and solidarity, as well as popular confidence in victory.
Regional and global powers, notably the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, had to view the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in light of new circumstances, dramatically altering opinions of the impossibility of changing the status quo by force.
As a consequence of the April fights, each of these factors may be evaluated independently and can be regarded as a separate pillar of Azerbaijan's historic triumph in the 44-day war in 2020.