Conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia ends in ceasefire

Several weeks ago I quoted Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the UK boasting about the size of his country’s military:

We categorically reject the allegations on the use of Syrian mercenaries. Azerbaijan’s armed forces are ranked 64 according to Global Firepower in terms of military strength and are perfectly capable of providing every protection Azerbaijan needs. Armenia, however, is ranked 111.

It appears his boast was not in vain. After 6 weeks of war, a ceasefire has been agreed, and Azerbaijan has retaken the disputed region it first lost in the 1990s (for more see my piece here). The NYT has reporting from the ground, full of photography and interviews. Some excerpts from an Azerbaijani interviewed:

“It is the end of longing and living bad times,” he said. “When you are a displaced person, and when you are longing for that place and you cannot visit it, that place becomes more than just a stone or mountain, it becomes like a beloved person. You want to kiss it, and lie down on it and feel the energy from the earth.”

And an Armenian:

Armenians appeared determined to make resettling the area as difficult as possible. They knocked down power lines and disassembled restaurants and gas stations. Men with chain saws fanned out across the roadside, stuffing freshly cut logs into vans and truck beds.

“Let them die from the cold,” said one man, who had arrived from Armenia, collecting the logs.

Russian peacekeepers will patrol the new border for at least five years, but it seems unlikely this will be the end of things. A few unfortunate things to keep in mind:

  • When Azerbaijan lost the first war in the 1990s, millions were displaced and an entire generation grew up on stories of national humiliation and the need for revenge. It will now be Armenia’s turn. There have already been accusations of treason or betrayal against Armenia’s Prime Minister for his role in the ceasefire.
  • Events will have illustrated to Azerbaijan’s dictator, Ilham Aliyev, who was under pressure before conflict broke out, the political benefits of fighting (and winning) wars.
  • Russia, Turkey, and Iran border one or both countries and are engaged in a broader struggle for influence in the region. This means simmering hatreds could get caught up in larger regional currents.

Who’s counting anyway?

I wrote about the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan here a few weeks ago. While looking for something else I stumbled on this letter to The Economist from the Ambassador of Azerbaijan in London. If you recall, there have been accusations that Turkey has been providing Syrian mercenaries to its ally, Azerbaijan.

We categorically reject the allegations on the use of Syrian mercenaries. Azerbaijan’s armed forces are ranked 64 according to Global Firepower in terms of military strength and are perfectly capable of providing every protection Azerbaijan needs. Armenia, however, is ranked 111.

If you have not seen it yet, the Azerbaijani military’s 80s rock music video is well worth a watch.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Some of you will have heard about the resurgence of violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Several hundred people have already died and there is a risk of further escalation.

Still internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, the ethnically Armenian region and its surroundings were wrestled from them by Armenia in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union disintegrated. This initial conflict killed tens of thousands and displaced many more. Tensions have periodically flared up into violence, but this latest conflict is the most serious since the official ceasefire was signed in 1994.

The conflict threatens to drag in bigger regional players. Armenia has a defence treaty with Russia while Azerbaijan is getting full-throated support in “their holy war” from none other than Turkey’s own dictator-to-be Erdoğan. Turkey’s involvement, which now includes sending Syrian mercenaries, is another prong in their campaign to be the region’s hegemon (again).

This piece in Foreign Affairs provides a useful overview if you want to read more.


This piece by the Economist argues that the conflict has given drones new purpose, as Azerbaijan uses them to destroy Armenian tanks and artillery from the air. Traditionally an anti-insurgent (sometimes Yemeni wedding parties) weapon, they were not expected to be useful in conventional warfare where manned aircraft would quickly dispatch them. It turns out that most countries do not have big air forces (Azerbaijan and Armenia have 52 between them. Australia has around 100) and armed drones are a cheap way to rain fire down on your opponent.

Before the Second World War, most navies were organised around battleships, giant floating artillery platforms that could hurl shells over the horizon. They were astronomically expensive and took years to build. They were already obsolete once the war started. Hundreds of cheap planes, launched from an aircraft carrier hundreds of kilometers away, made short work of them. See Operation Ten-Go.

Today militaries are made up of expensive weapons platforms like the F35 fighter jet ($100 million a pop excluding maintenance and R&D) or aircraft carriers (the latest US aircraft carrier costs $13 billion). Azerbaijan’s drones cost about 2 million each by comparison. The question is how drones might change war between larger powers. Will drones be the Achilles heel of modern militaries? Time will tell.