The 44-day Azerbaijani offensive abruptly reshaped a decades-long, World War I-like trench warfare over Nagorno-Karabakh, a poor and separatist region within Azerbaijan’s borders but ruled by ethnic Armenians.
Since the mid-1990s, when the Battle of Nagorno-Karabakh killed more than 30,000 people and displaced up to one million people, the conflict has long been seen as one of the “frozen” and intractable political dead ends in the country. which Armenia, poor in resources, seemed well above its political and military weight.
But not this time.
The victory cost Azerbaijan the lives of nearly 2,800 soldiers, dozens of Azerbaijani civilians and billions of dollars spent on weapons.
But according to the Moscow-brokered peace accord signed in November, it has reclaimed strategic swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh, including seven districts around the mountainous region that were once populated by ethnic Azeri but has become a dotted no-man’s land. of ghost towns and minefields.
How did Azerbaijan succeed in triumphing?
“It was a technological victory,” Alexey Malashenko, a Moscow-based political expert, told Al Jazeera.
Azerbaijan relied on sophisticated and expensive weapons and new combat-tested tactics in the Middle East, while their enemies relied on old Russian-made weapons and outdated ploys they mastered in the 1990s, according to analysts.
Armenian-backed troops moved in large groups or in trucks, their trenches were wide but not deep, their artillery was barely disguised and remained in place for days, becoming an easy target for air raids.
Their weapons were hopelessly old-fashioned, their fighter jets did not fly a single sortie, and their Russian-made Osa and Strela anti-aircraft missile systems were helpless in the face of Baku’s deadliest battlefield upgrade – unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones.
“Apparently, the Nagorno-Karabakh army did not follow the regional wars of the 2010s that were unfolding in their neighborhood,” researcher Nikolay Mitrokhin of the German University of Bremen told Al Jazeera.
Their technical and tactical drawbacks were evident from dozens of videos filmed by the Azerbaijani military from drones targeting these large groups, crowded trucks, shallow trenches, and exposed artillery.
Azerbaijan has used Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat drones which carry laser-guided bombs and which have been combat tested in Syria and Libya; Israeli patrol and reconnaissance drones Heron and Hermes, and finally Orbiter “kamikaze” drones also made in Israel.
Reconnaissance drones helped target artillery fire that forced the Armenians to retreat.
“This explains the slowness of the movement of the Azerbaijani army and its losses which would have been much higher in the event of a conventional assault in the mountainous areas,” said Pavel Luzin, defense analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, a group of reflection in Washington, DC. Al Jazeera.
Swarms of combat drones and suicide bombers hit tanks, missile systems, artillery, trenches and troops with precision, not only achieving military superiority, but also “demoralizing” the Armenians, he said. -he says.
Luzin, other observers and Armenian officials have claimed the drones are operated from Turkey – the way most US drones over Iraq and Syria are from military bases near Las Vegas.
Armenian officials and Western media have also claimed that Turkey has deployed thousands of recruited “mercenaries” in pro-Ankara areas of Syria. Azerbaijan and Turkey have denied these allegations.
A parade, protests and veiled threats
It was the first military parade in the story that celebrated the victory of one ex-soviet republic over another ex-soviet republic. It was also a combined show of force, new weapons and a budding military alliance.
The ceremonial stage of some 3,000 soldiers carrying assault rifles echoed through the central streets of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan and a Caspian port of three million people, as tens of thousands of spectators, some wearing face masks, clapping, taking pictures on their cellphones and chanting the national anthem.
A small contingent of elite Turkish commandos followed.
A deafening flock of military planes flew over them, releasing smoke in the colors of the Azerbaijani flag. Dozens of Russian-made tanks and missile systems, Turkish-made armed personnel carriers, Belarusian-made anti-tank missiles and, of course, Israeli and Turkish drones, were on display during the December 10 parade. .
Much older and damaged tanks and missile systems captured in Armenia were chased over long platforms as the crowds booed.
Radiant Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan watched the parade from a podium.
In his speech, Aliyev lambasted Armenia for expelling the Azeri ethnic group who lived in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven districts surrounding it.
“Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis who lived at the time [in what is now] the Republic of Armenia was evicted from its lands, ”Aliyev said. “Our people have lived on these lands for centuries.”
He then launched a veiled threat to continue the war by calling three Armenian regions, including the capital, Yerevan, “historically Azeri lands”.
Erdogan also looked triumphant – and echoed Aliyev’s words.
“The 30-year-old injustice is over. Our support for Azerbaijan will continue, ”he said.
But will it be?
Some observers predict that the two leaders, who have different backgrounds and political goals, could go their separate ways.
Erdogan is a graduate of a religious school that advocates the ideology of Pan-Turkism, a unity of Turkish-speaking ethnic groups and nations in Turkey, northern Iran, former Soviet Central Asia, and some parts of Russia.
Aliyev, whose father and presidential predecessor Heydar was a senior Soviet KGB official, graduated from a prestigious diplomatic university in Moscow – and does not want Azerbaijanis to be treated like “second-rate Turks,” the said. analyst Malashenko.
“It is a radical mistake to think that Azerbaijan will become Turkey’s backyard,” he said.
Three days after the parade, Aliyev praised another coxswain whose support, he said, was crucial to Azerbaijan’s victory.
“Without President Putin’s interference and efforts, the situation would have been different today,” Aliyev told a group of European officials in Baku.