September 27 Remembrance Day: A look into some of pivotal developments that led to triumph in second Karabakh war
By Vugar Khalilov
September 27 marks the second anniversary of the start of the 44-day second Karabakh war.
In response to the frequent Armenian provocations and to terminate the nearly 30-year-long occupation of Karabakh and surrounding territories, the Azerbaijani armed forces started wide-ranging military attacks to regain the lands, which resulted in the decisive and glorious victory over the Armenian army within 44 days.
Throughout the six-week-long blitzkrieg, the Azerbaijani army regained a significant part of the occupied territories, that is over 300 towns and villages from Armenia's 30-year-long disastrous occupation, compelling the enemy to sign an act of capitulation, and return back several districts in line with Russia-brokered peace deal.
By virtue of ongoing provocations along the contact line, unsuccessful mediation efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group, and Armenia's refusal to comply with international laws, just to name a few, to put an end to the occupation, a decisive war was not long in coming.
For the purpose of understanding some of the major reasons that triggered the second Karabakh war, it is of huge importance to understand the chronology of the Karabakh conflict.
The start of the Karabakh conflict
The active military phase of the Karabakh conflict started late in 1988 with outright territorial claims and ensuing military aggression and occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, one of the longest-running in the post-Soviet space, began in 1988, when ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, backed by Armenians in Armenia and abroad, took to the streets to call for secession from Soviet Azerbaijan to merge with Armenia.
In early 1988, Armenia started a new phase of outright aggression against Azerbaijan. The anti-Azerbaijan rhetoric and activities gained momentum across Armenia and in part of Karabakh populated by Armenians.
In view of Moscow's nonchalance about these events, Armenians began widespread forceful deportations of Azerbaijanis from their ancestral lands in Armenia under the tacit approval of the Soviet regime and the direct involvement of the Armenian government. Over 250,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were coerced to leave their native lands in Armenia and several thousand of them were brutally killed.
In February 1988, Armenians in Azerbaijan's historical Karabakh region launched protests, which gradually switched to clashes with local Azerbaijanis in the region to coerce Moscow via influential Armenians in Moscow to allow Karabakh's merger with Armenia.
Semi-active, ill-designed experiments and the lack of time-tested experiences on how to deal with and cope with ethnic conflicts and territorial claims led to the application of dozens of methods all of which later turned out to be anti-Azerbaijani with the ultimate goal of misappropriating lands that belonged to Azerbaijan for centuries.
Alas, when the Soviet Union fell apart, tensions exploded into a full-fledged war, and by 1994, Armenia had almost occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts, forcing one million Azerbaijanis to flee their ancestral homeland.
From 1994 through 2020, sporadic violent clashes went on with the use of cutting-edge technologies, such as attack drones and heavy armament in the 2016 four-day war, including the involvement of special operations forces.
At a time when brief skirmishes were regular occasions, Armenia and Azerbaijan were pursuing their own objectives, that is, Yerevan wanted to retain the occupied land by coercing Baku to reconcile with the real state of the affairs on the ground in return for a peace deal, while the latter was preparing for a final and decisive war to regain own territories through the combat-ready army motivated by the desire to end the invasion.
Armenian-committed atrocities against civilians
During the first Karabakh war (1988-1994), the Armenian invaders committed a series of systematic acts of genocide and war crimes against innocent Azerbaijanis, violating both military and international human rights principles by brutally murdering civilians and destroying all historical monuments in the Azerbaijani settlements.
The mass graves discovered in Karabakh’s different parts, following the 44-day war in 2020, are vivid examples of war crimes committed by the Armenian armed forces against the Azerbaijani people.
The Khojaly genocide on February 26, 1992, is seen as the pinnacle of the systematic crimes and atrocities committed by Armenia against Azerbaijanis. Some 613 Azerbaijanis, including 63 children, 106 women, and 70 elders were brutally murdered on the ethnic ground in Khojaly District.
Prior to the Khojaly genocide, Armenians committed the worst tragedy in Khojavand, Asgaran Disticts. The Garadaghli genocide was a stain on humanity, and heinous atrocities were committed in Akhullu, Tugh, Salaketin, and Edilli villages at the end of the XX century. A series of horrible acts were committed in Gazakh's Baghanis-Ayrim village.
In October-November 1991, Armenians burned, destroyed, and plundered over 30 settlements in the mountainous area of Karabakh, including Tugh, Imarat-Garvand, Sirkhavand, Meshali, Jamilli, Umudlu, Garadaghli, Karkijahan, and other villages.
On the night of April 7-8, 1992, the Armenian armed forces, with the support of the separatist Armenian gangs in the former Nagorno-Karabakh region, attacked Aghdaban and Chaygovushan villages.
On March 27, 1993, the Armenian terrorists invaded Aghdaban for the second time by besieging and razing it to the ground. The second occupation of Aghdaban meant the complete occupation of Kalbajar by Armenia. Kalbajar was besieged on all sides and completely occupied by Armenian armed forces on April 2, 1993.
Following the occupation of Azerbaijan's Kalbajar District in 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions (822, 851, 874, and 884) urging Armenia to withdraw its military forces from Azerbaijan's internationally recognized areas immediately.
Unfortunately, those resolutions remained unfulfilled for 28 years due to a lack of pressure on the aggressor and the application of double standards by world powers, specifically the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries, which were obliged to resolve the conflict within Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.
Peace talks imitation
The OSCE Minsk Group was established in 1992 by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), now called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to promote a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The group led by co-chair countries of France, Russia, and the United States, also included Belarus, Finland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
On May 5, 1994, the Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian representatives signed the Bishkek cease-fire protocol to terminate hostilities and enforce a ceasefire that would go into effect on May 12, with Russia acting as the mediator. Although there were isolated incidents of violence in the area, all parties agreed to uphold the provisions of the ceasefire.
The influential Armenian Diaspora with money in all three co-chair countries - Russia, France, and the United States - as well as the strategic partnership between Russia and Armenia raised concerns about the impartiality of the Minsk Group mediators.
During the 28 years of the negotiations process, countless meetings were held between Azerbaijan and Armenia via the Minsk Group, which yielded no tangible results. Representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, France, Russia, and the United States came together in Key West, Florida, and Paris in early 2001. However, the discussions at Key West were mostly kept under wraps and did not yield results.
Both the Armenian and the Azerbaijani delegations discussed the role and importance of the Minsk Group in peace discussions on October 7, 2002, at the CIS summit in Chisinau. The parties criticized the ineffective OSCE mediation, which lasted 10 years at that point.
Under the auspices of the co-chairs, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan met in Bern, Switzerland, on December 19, 2015. The presidents affirmed their willingness to continue working on a resolution and backed continued efforts to lower the risk of violence.
On October 16, 2017, the Minsk Group had the last meeting between Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan in Geneva. The presidents decided to do the necessary measures to strengthen the dialogue process and lessen tensions along the line of contact.
Due to Armenia's unconstructive attitude, all of the above-mentioned encounters between the leaders were merely imitations of peace negotiations and fell well short of achieving any meaningful progress in the peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Armenia's persistent and destructive activities, as well as its armed forces' violent provocations against Azerbaijan, rendered the military escalations imminent.
Four-day April 2016 flare-up
One of the glorious pages in Azerbaijan's Karabakh war history, the 2016 April battles, later dubbed the four-day war, bolstered the combat spirit of the national army and paved the way for the ultimate victory of the Azerbaijani army over Armenia in 2020.
The four-day flare-up proved the determination and resoluteness of the Azerbaijani people and the state that the occupation would not be tolerated and be restored at any cost. Four years later, the Azerbaijani Army rewrote history and restored the country's territorial integrity through the fierce battles on the battlefields.
On April 2, 2016, intensive artillery shelling of Azerbaijani frontline positions and settlements by the Armenian armed forces made the counter-offensive inescapable. 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 District's Talish village and Sugovushan settlement, Jabrayil District's Lalatapa height, and Jojug Marjanli village, as well as Goranboy District's Gulustan village, were cleared of enemy forces.
The breakdown of Armenia's defense line, which had previously been depicted as an "impassable barrier" in Azerbaijan's formerly occupied territories, was a strategically significant victory. Many people, including local and foreign experts, saw 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 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 2018 regime change in Armenia, hopes were high for a peaceful resolution of the conflict since new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan repeatedly alluded to "peace acceptable to all sides" in his early days in office.
However, his subsequent inflammatory rhetoric and behavior, such as illegal trips to Karabakh, particularly to the historical Azerbaijani city of Shusha, as well as his declaration that Karabakh - Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territory - is part of Armenia, stymied peace talks and forced Azerbaijan into the 44-day war.
Moreover, the Armenian armed forces' military action against Azerbaijan's Tovuz District, far away from the Karabakh theater of war in an attempt to endanger Azerbaijan's energy communication links that cross through the territory, was the final straw that broke Azerbaijan's patience.
Armenia, guided by the then defense minister's rhetoric that the occupation of new territories would compel Azerbaijan to compromise laid bare the new government's intention under the guise of democratic government.
The Tovuz battles of July 2020 were a turning point on the road to the Patriotic War, in which the Azerbaijani armed forces triumphed spectacularly.
Likewise, the stunning April battles of 2016, the triumphant Gunnut operation of 2018, and the Tovuz battles of 2020 characterized the Azerbaijani army's march to victory.
During the five-day July hostilities, which began with the blocking of the next sabotage of the Armenian army, the Azerbaijani army dealt a severe blow to the enemy and thwarted its evil purpose.
On July 12, 2020, Armenian military forces violated the ceasefire in the direction of Tovuz District on the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border, shelling Azerbaijani positions and attempting to launch an assault. However, as a result of the adequate preparations taken, the enemy was struck a significant blow and was forced to retreat with losses.
Thus, the attempts of the Armenian armed forces to capture the Azerbaijani army positions were resolutely prevented and no territorial loss was allowed.
On July 14, Armenian military forces opened fire from large-caliber weaponry and artillery on the villages of Aghdam, Alibayli, and Dondar Gushchu. On that day, Maj-Gen Polad Hashimov, and Col Ilgar Mirzayev of the Azerbaijan Army, who were on the frontline, as well as five servicemen, were heroically martyred while preventing the enemy attack. This demonstrated to the world the true patriotism of the general and other high-ranking officers of the Azerbaijan army, who heroically performed their duties on the frontline.
On the same day, retribution against the enemy was resumed. When the situation became tight, the opposing side, as is customary, began firing into the residential areas. A native of Tovuz's Aghdam village was killed as a result of artillery fire from Armenian troops.
On July 17, the Tovuz area was relatively peaceful, but tensions remained as a whole.
As a result of the Tovuz battles, 12 Azerbaijani military personnel and one civilian were killed. The engagements, however, were yet another demonstration of the Azerbaijani army's great expertise. Over 100 Armenian soldiers were killed and military equipment was destroyed by the Azerbaijani army units during the battles.
The battles of July 2020 were one of the most crucial steps on the path to the Patriotic War, one of the most magnificent chapters in Azerbaijan's history. After these engagements, the valiant Azerbaijani Army, which conducted a large-scale counter-offensive operation to prevent the enemy's next provocation, destroyed the Armenian armed forces in the 44-day war and liberated the territories from occupation.
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