The National Interest: Strategic advantage and favorable defensible terrain in Nagorno Karabakh are under Armenian control
The situation in the Southern Caucasus is heating up, and the possibility of military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is increasing, Jack Mulcaire, an expert on international relations, writes in his article published on the website of the magazine The National Interest.
The author writes that in the early 1990s, ethnic tensions between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis in the area resulted in a war, where the Armenian side won. Nagorno Karabakh has been de-facto independent since the end of the war. The mostly Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh Republic is supported by Armenia. Despite the ceasefire, the war never officially ended, and Azerbaijan still vigorously disputes the status of Nagorno Karabakh, to put it mildly. Armenia is also unlikely to relinquish any land.
It is pointed out in the article that both sides have significantly rearmed their forces since the war. After the ceasefire, hundreds have died in raids and exchanges of fire, which are increasing in frequency. Since the summer of 2014, these dangerous clashes have taken place almost daily. On November 2014 Azerbaijani forces shot down an Armenian Mi-24 helicopter and there was fighting on the ground as the Armenians attempted to recover bodies from no-men land. On January 31, 2015, the Nagorno Karabakh Defense Army launched a preemptive attack on several Azerbaijani positions and killed a number of Azerbaijani soldiers.
The author highlights that the Azerbaijani side has significantly increased its military spending over the recent years, and this trend has not abated, despite the global decline of oil prices. Israel has been one of Azerbaijan’s strongest defense partners for several years now, and as a result of this relationship, the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan have acquired Israeli drones.
In its turn, Armenian military is also spending as if it predicts a war. Armenia and Russia carefully preserve the uncertainty about the acquisition of Iskanders, which could provide a way for Armenia to hit the Azerbaijani Air Force on the ground in Azerbaijan. Since 2012, Armenia has also invested heavily in Russian-supplied upgrades for its large numbers of existing armor and artillery and in domestically-produced drone systems.
The author also points to the strategic and very defensible terrain of Armenia. “Armenian forces already control all of Karabakh’s main roads, population centers and the sources of water and electricity. To reach them, Azeri forces would have to cross steep, rugged mountains that are heavily fortified by well-equipped local Armenian forces. To the north, the Armenian zone of Karabakh is accessible only via the treacherous Omar Pass over the Murovdag mountain range. Azeri forces entering Karabakh from the east would have to pass through a hole in the mountains that is only about 2.5 kilometer squares wide at the town of Askeran in order to reach Karabakh’s main city of Stepanakert. Getting past these geographic barriers will not be easy. Karabakh’s water and electricity originate from the hydroelectric dam at the Sarsang Reservoir, and the main road to Armenia proper passes through the Lachin corridor, both of which are even farther and more inaccessible for any hypothetical Azeri operation in Karabakh,'' the article reads.
The Armenian side already controls the territory it wants, meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev “is putting out a steady stream of aggressive rhetoric, insulting Armenia” and promising that his country will recapture Nagorno Karabakh. The frontline in Karabakh is only becoming more dangerous, the author concludes.