Recriminations And Arrests In Armenia Follow Losses To Azerbaijan
Repercussions from the "four-day war" with Azerbaijan in April continue to resonate in Armenia, with several senior officials arrested on corruption charges and one prominent political figure accusing the government of "deceiving" Armenians about their military capabilities.
Three security officials were arrested on Monday. “They were arrested for different criminal charges. They are suspected of various wrongdoings. In one case accepting poor quality supplied goods, in another case, according to preliminary data, procurements with exaggerated expenses,” said Sona Truzyan, a government spokesman, as reported by commonspace.eu.
This follows the firing of three other senior Ministry of Defense and armed forces officials at the end of April, also amid various corruption-related investigations. All this is in reaction to the results of fighting in early April in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, which resulted in the greatest number of casualties since a ceasefire between the two sides was signed in 1994, and during which Azerbaijan for the first time since then captured some new territory.
Further underscoring Yerevan's desire to shake things up, President Serzh Sargsyan replaced one of the fired MoD officials with a relative outsider, David Pakhchanian, as Deputy Defense Minister Chairman of the State Military Industrial Committee.
The appointment of Pakhchanian, a young technocrat, may be partly motivated by a desire to find someone outside corrupt patronage networks. But the more significant reason, journalist and regional analyst Emil Sanamyan told The Bug Pit in an email interview, was as "a response to technical gaps related to [Azerbaijan's acquisition of] Israeli weapons that were revealed in April."
Public debate over the shortcomings of the armed forces has continued in Armenia, most notably with a blunt television interview given by Samvel Babayan, a former head of the defense ministry of the de facto Nagorno Karabakh government who still commands substantial authority in Karabakh (and is a potentially strong candidate in next year's presidential elections in the unrecognized republic, Sanamyan noted).
In the interview, Babayan accused Armenia's military leadership of "deceiving its own people," by understating the loss of territory in Karabakh in the four-day war and by minimizing the risks faced by Armenia in case an all-out war breaks out:
Imagine, they are setting up various Israeli, Russian rocket launchers in Nakhicivan. The question arises: for what? To attack Karabakh? For that they could install them on the border with Karabakh, not in Nakhicivan. That is, when we say that we are ready to launch an attack, the enemy will absolutely use those to attack Yerevan. From Yerevan to Nakhicivan is 42 kilometers. These weapons, these rocket launchers, have a range of 70 to 150 kilometers... Are we prepared to defend against these, defend our cities and villages? It won't do to say we'll drink tea in Baku. You may be able to drink tea in Baku, but I worry that they will more likely make it to Yerevan and drink tea here. You shouldn't wear a general's uniform and talk like a kolkhoz chairman. Our soldiers won't be able to withstand this many rockets... if they launch 25,000 shells at the front in one minute, will a person be able to hold his ground? What does it mean that our morale is high? ... We need to think of the safety of our soldiers.
For the most part, this sort of self-criticism has not been seen in Baku, most obviously because Azerbaijan's armed forces performed better than they had been expected to, successfully taking some territory. But one Azerbaijani military analyst said the country should not become complacent and should follow Armenia's example.
"It's a measure of how serious findings were made in Yerevan and that the Armenian leadership is not afraid to admit that in their army there is a serious failure and problems," said the analyst, Uzeir Jafarov in an interview with the Turan news agency. "We should act in the same spirit and we should not be taken away by the euphoria of success." In particular, Jafarov identified several former senior commanders who are no longer in service but should, in his opinion, be brought back.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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