The focus of the operations launched by the Azerbaijani Army on September 27 was the Fizuli direction. Russian military analyst Ruslan Pukhov described the operation as follows: “On the eastern borders of the Armenian-controlled territory, a 120-km chain of layered strongpoints has been built on the dominating heights covered by a plain security area. This outline of the boundaries of the control zone ensures its stability during hostilities and gives the Armenian armed forces positional superiority. In general, the northern and western parts of the line of contact are mountainous, which makes it easier for the Armenians to organize their defense, especially by relying on the heights of the ‘Ohanyan line’. However, the flatness of the semisteppe terrain in the southern part of Karabakh, in the Fizuli—Horadiz—Jabrayil sector, benefits the Azerbaijani mechanized units. This is why, as predicted by observers, the Azerbaijanis launched the main attack on September 27 in the southern part of the conflict zone adjacent to the Iranian border, in the direction of Fizuli, with a strong tank support.” The Azerbaijani Army delivered its strongest blow in the direction of Fizuli—up the wide valley of the Kondalanchay River. The main target of the army was the village of Karakhanbeyli. The video released by the Defense Army that day shows a charge of a convoy of 2-3 tanks and at least 14 BMPs (infantry fighting vehicle). The vehicles were lined up in single file on the road from the village of Alkhanli to Karakhanbeyli in front of the rampart covering the Armenian frontage road. During the first attack, the Armenian outposts in this direction were taken. Although the slowly advancing Azerbaijani units faced the threat of attack from the flanks, the Armenians were unable to carry out this threat on the first day.
On September 27, a tank convoy advancing in the direction of Karakhanbeyli managed to breach the first line of defense and capture several outposts beyond it but failed to advance further. The progress of the Azerbaijani units in this direction can be seen in the video released by the Armenian Ministry of Defense on October 3. The video shows the ruins west of the village of Alkhanli. It is also clear from the video of an Azerbaijani tank being destroyed that the Armenians lost the first line of defense but retained visual and fire control behind the approaches to Karakhanbeyli. The attack of Azerbaijani units 4 km to the north of Karakhanbeyli on September 27 failed. The group that charged in this direction with at least 4 BMP-2s (infantry fighting vehicle) was completely annihilated. The fully operational BMP No 386 and BMP No 388 without the track were seized by the Armenians. BMP No 397 and the fourth BMP with unknown number were hit. At least 15 Azerbaijani servicemen were killed in this battle, including Junior Sergeant Mahammad Babazade. The BMPs seized here were quickly put into service by the Armenians and were used in combat on October 1.
On September 27, simultaneously with the Karakhanbeyli operation, the attack on the village of Ashagi Seyidahmadli on the southern bank of the Kondalanchay began. The village of Ashagi Seyidahmadli was one of the places with the strongest line of defense in Fizuli District. The battle was filmed by a camera located near the village of Garvand, 8 km northwest. From what we can make out in the video shot from a distance, the Azerbaijani units launched an attack in this direction with at least 5 armored vehicles. During the attack, the enemy posts were seized, Azerbaijani tanks climbing over the strongpoint tried to destroy the rear line of defense, but one tank was hit. The Armenian Ministry of Defense demonstrated the video footage of the battle on September 28.
The other focus of the Azerbaijani army in the Fizuli direction was the village of Horadiz. It is hardly possible to say whether the operation was a subsidiary advance to protect the flank of the troops in the Araz valley. The focus of the attack was the heights to the north and south of the village. The northern attack took place about 3.8 km north of Horadiz. The battle was filmed from a location 1.3 km north of the village and 2.5 km from the line of defense. The results of the attack were shown in a video shared by the Armenian Ministry of Defense on September 29. Although it is not completely clear from the video, two armored vehicles, one of them a tank moving in the direction of the Armenian troops, were burning. The explosion of this tank can be seen on the monitor screen at the Armenian headquarters on October 4 (time code 1:45).
Despite the loss of armored vehicles, Azerbaijani units managed to capture the enemy strongpoint in the north and the adjacent section of the main rampart. On the satellite image on September 30, we can see the line of communication line stretching towards them. At the same time, another Armenian outpost 3 km south of Horadiz village was captured. The second attack took place 1.5 km south of the village of Horadiz. The results of this attack became known in the evening of September 27 with a message shared by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense entitled “The enemy is fleeing the battlefield leaving combat vehicles behind.” The video from a Bayraktar shows a column of two tanks and six infantry fighting vehicles burning south of the village of Horadiz. However, the two longitudinal white stripes on the equipment used for identification in the Azerbaijani troops, the direction and nature of their actions show that the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense recorded the failure of its own attack. A satellite image on September 30 clearly shows the tracks of this column starting from the Azerbaijani positions. On September 27, during heavy fighting on the front line, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense issued a statement on the afternoon fighting: “As a result of the successful counter-attack operation carried out by the troops and units of the Azerbaijan Army, a number of occupied villages, strategic heights and advantageous areas were liberated. As a result of the military operation in the Fizuli-Jabrayil direction, Karakhanbeyli, Gervend, kend Horadiz, Yukhari Abdurrahmanli, Boyuk Marjanli and Nuzgar villages of Fizuli region, which have been under enemy occupation for many years, were liberated.” Nevertheless, no video footage of the liberated villages was released during the war, except for the village of Horadiz, which meant that the fighting in the villages continued. Artsrun Hovhannisyan, spokesman for the Armenian Ministry of Defense, mocked the statement of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense about the liberation of six villages on his Facebook page: “Six villages… take it up a notch, say it’s 10 cities. Damn it, you haven’t even learned how to photoshop the city of Fizuli properly.”
The Azerbaijani units continued to attack in the direction of Karakhanbeyli on the following day, September 28. Their movement can be observed in the footage from the same camera near the village of Garvand, which filmed the attack on Ashagi Seyidahmadli, from a distance of 5.5 km. The camera shows 1 Azerbaijani tank and 2 BMP-1s moving west along the main street in the central part of Karakhanbeyli. Two Azerbaijani BMP-1s were hit in this direction. The scene of their destruction was not included in the video. During this attack, the Azerbaijani units came under fire from the neighboring village of Mardinli. One BMP tried to turn south and was hit, while another two BMPs started moving west of Karakhanbeyli. The video shows the first BMP moving through the rubble and the second BMP following it. The second BMP gets hit from the south by an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). The first BMP decides to retreat and rolls back in reverse, while the first, now burning, BMP explodes in the distance.
Azerbaijani units launched an offensive near the ruins of the village of Ashagi Abdurrahmanli, which was supposed to be auxiliary to the offensive at Karakhanbeyli and support the southern flank. The attack took place in at least two areas, 3 km apart. The first attack area was located 1 km north of Ashagi Abdurrahmanli. In this attack, Azerbaijani units used at least 1 tank, 1 IMR (armored engineering vehicle), and 6 BMPs of various modifications. However, the tank was destroyed by ATGM fire at the beginning of the attack. Although the crew tried to turn around and move away, the fire made it impossible, and the crew left the tank. The IMR was also hit as it headed towards the ridge. Although the strongpoint selected as the target of the attack was taken, the posts in the west and east were not. In this situation, either the strongpoint had to be abandoned, or the engineers had to build a protected communication route. Suffering heavy losses, the Azerbaijani units had to withdraw. As they retreated, they came under machine gun fire, because the Armenians had the entire area in the crosshairs. The footage shared by the Armenian Ministry of Defense on October 2 shows the soldiers retreating under enemy fire.
The second attack site was located 1 km southwest of Ashagi Abdurrahmanli. The Azerbaijani units attacking in this direction could capture the enemy’s strongpoint, but one of the two BTR-82A armored personnel carriers attacking the main line of enemy defense was hit, and the second one retreated under the cover of a smoke grenade. The pole of the camera recording the fighting in this direction was shown in an interview with CBC Azerbaijan. By September 30, the strongpoint in this direction and the heights in the north were taken.
It is still hard to say anything about the consequences of the Azerbaijani army’s September 28 attack. Azerbaijan’s success in this direction was minimal. The new positions in the Karakhanbeyli and Ashagi Seyidahmadli direction can be seen in the satellite images taken on September 30. Be as it may, the Azerbaijani units were unable to push the Armenian army far back in this direction. On the same day, the leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, Arayik Harutyunyan, acknowledged the loss of positions in some areas while reporting on the situation: “What is happening now is an unprecedented war along the entire line of contact. This is not April 2016, not the Tovuz events. This is a classic war with all due preparation done. It seems that the war is large-scale and Azerbaijan has deployed all its manpower and equipment. We expected Azerbaijan to start hostilities, so the Defense Army was ready to face them. However, we have lost control over some areas. There are lost positions in the direction of the village of Talish and in the south (in Fizuli and Jabrayil).”
On the night of September 29, the “NKR Defense Army” counterattacked to regain the lost positions. Spokesman for the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense Lieutenant Colonel Anar Eyvazov made a statement with regard to this: “Although the Armenian Armed Forces repeatedly tried to counterattack to regain the lost positions in the Fizuli-Jabrayil direction, the units of the Azerbaijani Army deployed there have successfully defended and immediately prevented all enemy attempts.” Chief of the Press Service of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense Vagif Dargahli said that the Armenian army had attacked the positions in the village of Ashagi Veysalli. In the morning of September 29, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense announced that the attack had been in the Fizuli direction: “The Azerbaijan Army’s offensive to liberate Fizuli city continues since the morning of September 29. Between 7 and 8 in the morning, our heroic soldiers destroyed four more tanks of the Armenian troops in the Fizuli-Jabrayil direction of the front.”
The difficulties of the first day did not stop Azerbaijan’s offensive, and on September 29-30, the attack began again in the Ashagi Seyidahmadli-Karakhanbeyli direction. This was one of the heaviest and bloodiest battles of the Patriotic War. At the beginning of the attack, which involved three tanks, one of the tanks was hit by the Armenians. The attack was carried out with the strong infantry support. An AN-2 aircraft was shot down during the attack. The video of this battle was demonstrated by the Armenians on September 29.
Nevertheless, the attack continued and the first line of defense was breached. One of the tanks was hit after advancing about 300 meters to the west. Unable to break through the second line of defense, the Azerbaijani units were forced to retreat, suffering heavy losses.
Thus, the Azerbaijani units were unable to advance in the direction of the village of Ashagi Seyidahmadli until September 30, and the attack was stopped. The footage taken by the Armenian media agency Bars Media during the fighting for Karakhanbeyli on September 29 was one of the most memorable videos of the war. The positions of the Armenian side were in the direction of the village of Mardinli adjacent to Karakhanbeyli. From the positions in this village, the village of Karakhanbeyli could be easily observed. Trucks moving freely indicated that at least the western part of Karakhanbeyli was not controlled by the Azerbaijani Army. Trying to change that, the Azerbaijani units launched an attack in this direction. At the 2:25 mark, the video shows the moment of the hit on an Azerbaijani BMP. Judging by the Azerbaijani soldiers next to it, the hit was not very strong, but at 2:42 the BMP was smoking.
The footage shared by the Armenian Ministry of Defense on October 3 showed an Azerbaijani tank moving westward in Karakhanbeyli and being hit by a grenade. On October 7, the fighting still continued in the village of Karakhanbeyli. On the same day, the leader of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, Arayik Arutunyan, awarded the title of “Hero of Artsakh” to David Grigoryan and Yura Alaverdyan, who had distinguished themselves in the fighting for Karakhanbeyli (for destroying Azerbaijani tanks and BMPs). One of them, David Grigoryan, was killed by the Azerbaijani army on October 4.
Thus, in the brutal fighting for the villages of Fizuli District from September 27 to October 3, the Azerbaijani Army was able to capture about half of the village of Karakhanbeyli, as well as strongpoints in the direction of the villages of Ashagi Seyidahmadli and Horadiz. The most successful direction in the offensive launched on September 27 was Jabrayil. Here, the Azerbaijani units took the village of Nuzgar and, in an operation involving special forces, entered Boyuk Marjanli from the hill. The capture of Boyuk Marjanli was the breaking point of the war. Thus, the attack from the Fizuli direction stopped and the plan was changed. The main goal was to encircle the entire southeastern front from the Jabrayil-Hadrut direction and capture Fizuli.
The Hadrut-Fizuli operation
After the Azerbaijani Army completely liberated the city of Jabrayil on October 7, it turned in the direction of Hadrut. The capture of Hadrut from the east was very important for the capture of Fuzuli. The Armenian leadership prepared a counterattack to prevent this. According to the plan, the Armenian army had to cut off and encircle the Azerbaijani group in the narrowest part of the route from the village of Horadiz to the Araz River. The operation involved 10 tanks, 2 BMPs and a large number of trucks. This counterattack was disastrous for the Armenian army. The Armenians managed to reach only the first strongpoint where they were annihilated. 5 tanks were destroyed, 5 tanks and 2 BMPs and many trucks were captured by the Azerbaijani Army. The results of this battle were demonstrated by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense in a video on October 8. It shows the hit Armenian tanks in a neutral territory, which means that the fighting did not take place inside the village of Horadiz. Thus, the Azerbaijani units were able to fully control the village of Horadiz only on the 11th day of the war.
Ukrainian journalist Yuri Butusov says: “In Azerbaijan, drones solve broad operational and tactical tasks, while in Armenia, a few drones are used in a very limited way. As a result, the Armenians could not impose their initiative on the enemy, an attempt to strike on October 8 near Horadiz failed, and the tank units were attacked by a Bayraktar at the stage of deployment. In the conditions of enemy air supremacy, concentration of any ground forces in the open area proved to be impossible.”
After the defeat of the Armenian army in Horadiz, an attack was launched from Jabrayil in the direction of Hadrut. Ukrainian expert Yuri Podolyaka viewed the Azerbaijani Army’s attack east of Hadrut as part of the Fuzuli operation: “The Armenian leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh knows that if they lose the pass separating Hadrut and Fizuli, then Fuzuli, or rather the ruins of the city, and virtually the entire region, will be doomed. Controlling the heights around Fizuli in the south, the Azerbaijani Army will capture this area in one or two days.”
Earlier, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan acknowledged that Armenian troops had withdrawn in the northern and southern directions of the front, but said that the “territory for peace” formula was unacceptable and that they would fight to the end.
On the first day of the Hadrut operation, on 9 October, the Azerbaijani special forces surrounded the villages west of Fizuli, Yukhari Guzlek and Gorazilli. On October 12, after 15 days of fighting, a video of the Azerbaijani Army entering the village of Mardinli was demonstrated. This meant that the village of Karakhanbeyli had been completely taken under control. On October 14, the villages of Garadagli, Khatunbulag, Garakollu of Fizuli District and the villages of Bulutan, Melikjanli, Kemertuk of Khojavend District were liberated. In particular, taking control of the 1,462-m high Mount Ergunesh in the village of Kemertuk (Girmizigaya) could result in the Azerbaijani army encircling the entire southeastern front of the Armenian army. Colonel Tehran Mansimov, former officer of the Nakhchivan Combined-Arms Army, recalls the battles in this area: “I sent our martyr, late Colonel Anar Aliyev with his battalion to the right flank in the Fizuli direction, the 5 villages there had not been liberated yet. The commander there was Kanan Seyidov, now a Major General. The left flank was commanded by Colonel Zaur Mammadov. We had served together in Karabakh. I was the brigade commander on the right flank, and he was on the left flank. That’s why I chose him now, I thought I would be more comfortable with him. We came to Hadrut. I divided the troops in the Fizuli direction into 12 groups. More precisely, in the Hadrut-Fuzuli direction. On October 12, our groups engaged in combat. Heights 1698, 1666, 1304, as well as the heights called “Vyshka”, “Khach”, Mount Ergunesh, Height 1462 and Hadrut itself—together with the special forces led by Lieutenant General Hikmet Mirzayev, we fought and liberated all these strategic heights and villages in 4 days. The right flank was liberated by the groups led by the late Colonel Anar Aliyev. His groups liberated the strategic height Mengelenata, the villages of Garakollu, Aygestan, Pirahmadli, Gorazilli, Akhullu, Adilli, Dudukchu. It all took 4 or 5 days, if I’m not mistaken.”
Yuri Butusov: “On October 14, the Armenian army began to retreat from the southeast. The Azerbaijanis pushed the Armenians out of the dominating heights around Jabrayil, Hadrut and Fizuli, making it impossible for them to hold the frontline.” On the same day, the Azerbaijani Army approached Fizuli from the direction of Mirzajamalli and the fighting took place north of Fizuli. This can be seen in the footage shared by the Armenian Ministry of Defense. On October 15, Azerbaijani units entered the village of Arish in Fizuli District. The footage released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense on October 16 confirms that Mount Ergunesh was under the Azerbaijani army’s control. On the same day, Azerbaijani units narrowed the encirclement of Fizuli from the west, northwest and northeast. Seeing the futility of the resistance, the Armenians quickly left Fizuli. The Azerbaijani Army entered the city of Fizuli on October 17, and in the morning President Ilham Aliyev announced the liberation of the city of Fizuli together with the villages of Gochahmadli, Chimen, Juvarli, Pirahmadli, Musabayli, Ishigli, Dadali. Although the city of Fizuli was liberated, the Azerbaijani units were unable to encircle and destroy the Armenian troops on the southeastern front. The video from Fizuli released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense October 18 showed that the pocket was completely closed.
The counteroffensive of the Armenian army
When the fighting began near Fizuli, the Armenian command had already begun to put the plan to prevent the advance of the Azerbaijani Army in the northern and northeastern directions into action. The plan was simple. A skeleton motorized infantry regiment was formed, and two small motorized infantry battalions, supported by a tank and several artillery missile battalions, were brought to the combat zone. When the Azerbaijani Army entered the territory of the strategically important city of Fizuli, it become pointless for the Armenian defense forces stationed near the border to stay there, and they left their positions and began to retreat. Surprisingly, the most critical loss for the Armenian Armed Forces during this period was automotive vehicles. Kamaz, GAZ, and Ural trucks were the main means of transporting machine guns and artillery, and the Armenians lost their mobility without them. In the first hours of the fighting, the Azerbaijani command mostly targeted the trucks. The Azerbaijani leadership was probably able to correctly assess the experience of the spring of 2016 and understand that the trucks were the Achilles’ heel of the Armenian Armed Forces. The presence of a large number of faulty vehicles in the Armenian army showed the low quality of its equipment capability. A large number of faulty trucks were abandoned at permanent outposts and positions as the Armenian units retreated. Dozens of abandoned faulty trucks were also shown in the video footage provided by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense. At the beginning of the Fizuli attack, the Armenian command began to concentrate its forces for the counteroffensive, which began in the north along the Khankendi-Khojavend-Fuzuli route, as well as in the south, in the direction of the Khudaferin reservoir. The terrain in Fizuli District gave certain advantages to the Defense Army. The units involved in the counteroffensive were concentrated on the hill, while the Azerbaijani units were concentrated on the plain. The mountainous terrain also allowed the Armenian units to concentrate the troops covertly. The main purpose of the counterattack of the Defense Army was to take back Fuzuli. In case of success, they planned to reach the Iranian border, splitting the Azerbaijani army advancing in the south in two. At the same time, the units of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces fighting west of the Fizuli-Horadiz-Iran border line could be encircled. However, after the war, it became clear that the Armenian army did not have the capacity for such a large-scale operation. Even taking Fizuli back was probably not part of the plan of the Armenian counteroffensive. Several motorized infantry battalions and two tank battalions could not withstand confrontation with the Azerbaijani forces. The actual plan was to gain time for the machine-gun and artillery units retreating from the former line of contact. The command of the Karabakh Armenians planned to use these forces to fill the second line. Its fortifications were located in the Lachin corridor, around Khankendi and on the outskirts of Shusha. Because of the disrupted mobilization plan, the Armenian forces had not been able to gather enough manpower to fill these lines. The Armenian counteroffensive lasted for two days. To support it, the NKR Defense Army managed to put together a powerful artillery fist from several units of 2S1 (Gvozdika) and 2S3 (Acacia) self-propelled howitzers, as well as Grad missile systems. On the morning of October 17, several Armenian motorized infantry battalions clashed with the advancing Azerbaijani units northwest of Fizuli, on the Khojavend highway. The Armenian units captured several Azerbaijani posts in this direction and began to move around Fizuli. In the evening, the Armenian Ministry of Defense announced that they had managed to stop the Azerbaijani offensive. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan even said that Azerbaijani units were encircled on the Iranian border. However, the Armenian leader promised to present evidence of this great success later.
On the night of October 18, a tank battalion of the Armenian forces was advancing in the direction of Khudaferin reservoir. However, tanks were not as lucky here as in the offensive in Fizuli District. The battalion was hit by UAVs, multiple missile systems and long-range anti-tank missile systems. The video released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense showed the defeat of the Armenian tankmen. In a matter of minutes, the Azerbaijani military managed to destroy more than 10 T-72 tanks. On the morning of October 18, Azerbaijani units attacked in the northern direction, and the fight against the Armenian motorized infantry battalion near Fizuli in the evening resulted in the Armenian army suffering heavy losses and retreating to its previous positions. After the destruction of the tank battalion in the south, the Armenian army could not stop the Azerbaijani attacks around the reservoir. Therefore, the remaining forces had to retreat to the west and to the border of the former Nagorno-Karabakh. On the evening of October 18, Armenia’s declarations of victory gave way to complaints that Baku was continuing the hostilities in violation of the humanitarian ceasefire. As a result of the failed counteroffensive, the “NKR” Defense Army lost its last mobile units. However, these attacks allowed several scattered Armenian artillery units to get out of the Azerbaijani rear. Thus, the fighting for the city of Fizuli was over.
The arguments of the Armenian side
In the direction of Fizuli and Jabrayil, the Defense Army had fairly well-fortified positions, and even defense areas with long-term firing points and covers. The vast majority of these facilities were built during the First Karabakh War and modernized immediately after it ended. Later, only part of the fortifications had small garrisons, while the rest were abandoned. The defensive positions covered access to all major settlements from Fizuli to Shusha and Khankendi, as well as to the Lachin corridor. At least six artillery regiments were to support this line of defense. Immediately after the start of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, mobilization was announced and the influx of volunteers began. The main objective of the mobilized units was to protect the second line of defense. By the time the fighting for Fizuli began, mobilization had been going on for two weeks. However, despite such a long period of time, the reserve “machine gun and artillery” units were not deployed in the fortified positions in the Fizuli and Lachin corridors. Former Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Movses Hakobyan blamed Nikol Pashinyan for suspending all mobilization activities on the third day. However, the mobilization prospecting figures given by Hakobyan indicate that the entire system was not ready for a full-scale war. As many as 1,500 soldiers deserted this combat zone.
One of the Armenian soldiers stuck in the encirclement in the Fizuli direction was Armen Karapetyan, who had come to fight in Karabakh from Russia as a volunteer. He recalls the situation in the Armenian army: “We were desperate, get it? We held the front for as long as we could. We waited for reinforcements, but our guys weren’t able to come to the rescue. We were ordered to retreat in the direction of Fizuli. But Fizuli was already closed off by the Azerbaijanis. We found ourselves surrounded, with our frontlines already being demolished by the enemy. The Azerbaijani forces were firing upon the retreating Armenian troops. It was chaos. We were attacked by drones, by Grads. I was just thinking about surviving. We were supposed to retreat to the north, but we weren’t familiar with the territory and ended up going south—right into the line of fire. By the time the soldiers realized their mistake, enemy forces had already cut off their path to retreat. Those who tried to escape the encirclement were ambushed by Azerbaijani troops. Our unit fell into one of these ambushes near Fizuli on October 15. At first, they didn’t see us in the ravine, but then they started killing us. There was nowhere to hide. A lot of guys were killed. Meanwhile, one of the bullets hit my thigh. I got out of the ravine alongside Levon Atanesyan, we returned fire and then made our way out through the mountains. I soon blacked out and Levon just dragged me, so wasn’t left there. I fully regained consciousness when advancing Azerbaijani troops reached the field where Levon and I were hiding. They were passing by, an entire squadron of them. We hid by the abandoned tank and pretended to be dead. The enemy was passing by and chatting. They even saw us but thought that we were dead, lying there by the tank. It was a pure stroke of luck that they didn’t realize we were alive, and did not kill us off.”
And this is how Armenian soldier Emil Afrikyan, who was wounded in battle just before the war ended, reminisces about the combats: “When we were there at the front in 2016, we saw how they waged war. They were just firing shells from their BM-21 Grad rocket launchers, hoping that they’ll land somewhere and destroy something. Now they fire with millimeter-level precision.” Samvel Baginyan, whose son went missing in the Fizuli battles, says: “On October 8, my son was sent to Fizuli. He kept in touch with me until October 11, and his friends did until October 12 and 13. On the 14th of the month, they were encircled and hit from the right and the left. After that, the connection was lost. Then I started asking around, and a lieutenant colonel said that my son had been taken by car from Fizuli to Khankendi because he was wounded. The commanders say they saw them making 800 to 1,500 meters. They were never seen again after they turned around the hill. This 3-4 km section was under the control of the Azerbaijani Army.”
In an interview to The New York Times, an Armenian soldier spoke about the horrors of Azerbaijani UAVs: “The ordnance was so precise that Armenian soldiers operating battle tanks would drive onto the battlefield, fire off a round and jump out and run for cover. It was hell.”
In Armenia, they blame the defeat in this direction, including in Hadrut, on the chief of staff of the artillery division Gevorg Gevorkyan, who was to open fire on the Azerbaijani units advancing in the Fizuli direction. The division under Gevorkyan’s command took up a position in the direction of Fizuli District on October 11, 2020. However, artillery was not mounted in the area due to the lack of engineering fortifications.
Casualties on both sides
The fighting for Fizuli can be described as the bloodiest part of the war. President Ilham Aliyev also points out that the battles were heavy and entailed many casualties: “The battles for Fizuli were very hard. Time will pass and books and papers will be written about these battles. It was a battle that required great professionalism, skill, courage and self-sacrifice. Because during these 30 years, the enemy has built such a strong fortification on the line of contact that some people thought that it was impossible to liberate the city of Fizuli from occupation Even the most well-known military experts were of the opinion that it would take months to capture Fizuli and free it from occupation and whether the operation would be successful at all. However, the victorious Azerbaijani Army was able to tackle this glorious mission and most of the villages of Fizuli District and the city of Fizuli have been liberated from the enemy in a short time. At the same time, from a strategic point of view, the breaching of several lines of defense on the line of contact with Fizuli gives us another strategic advantage. Because our armed forces located in the direction of Fizuli have been fighting there these days. Of course, it is not a secret now where we were able to enter Fizuli from. As a result of tremendous military professionalism and courage, we were able to liberate Fizuli from the occupiers. Before that, the city of Jabrayil was liberated from the invaders. Before that, Hadrut was liberated from the occupiers. Many villages of Khojavend and Jabrayil Districts, including Fizuli District, were liberated from occupation. Only after that were we able to liberate the city of Fizuli from the occupiers. In the latest stage, the enemy has dropped the guns and fled.”
From September 27 to October 4, according to camera footage, in the fighting for Fizuli, the Azerbaijani Army lost 8 tanks, 16 BMP, 1 BTR (armored personnel carrier), 1 IMR. During the war, Azerbaijani units were able to recapture BMP No 386 seized by the Armenians. Yuri Butusov describes the Azerbaijani army’s losses in equipment by October 19 as follows: “Azerbaijan’s losses in equipment are significant, and here it should be noted that their accounting is not so complete, as the battlefield mostly belongs the Azerbaijanis, and the Armenians do not have drones with video cameras. Nevertheless, the Azerbaijanis’ losses in equipment are an order of magnitude smaller than the enemy’s. In total, the Azerbaijani Army lost 21 T-72 and T-90 tanks, 17 light armored vehicles and 12 automotive vehicles.”
It is difficult to determine how many units of equipment the Armenian Army lost in this direction. On September 28, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying that the Armenian army had lost 22 tanks and other armored vehicles, 15 OSA anti-aircraft missile systems, 18 UAVs, 8 artillery pieces, with more than 550 people killed and wounded along the front line. However, it is unlikely that the Armenians, as the defending side, suffered so many losses on the second day of the war. At a press conference on September 30, Arayik Harutyunyan said that there were losses on both sides, but the losses of the Azerbaijani Army were greater. Azerbaijani conflict resolution expert and historian Arif Yunus also says that the Azerbaijani Army suffered more losses than the Armenian army when breaching the first lines of defense.
Azerbaijan has officially announced that 11,365 people fought in Fizuli, but there are no official figures on the number of soldiers killed in this district. Although there is no official list of Azerbaijani soldiers killed in Fizuli, based on open sources, this figure is more than 520. This is 18% of the army’s total losses in the war. If we consider the operations in the east of Hadrut as part of the Fizuli battles, then the figure will be much higher. Thus, the Fizuli battles went down in history as the battles in which the Azerbaijani Army suffered the most losses in the Patriotic War. The official information on the manpower losses of the Armenian army is inaccurate. The bodies of 57 Armenian soldiers were found in the search conducted in Fizuli from December 2020 to October 2021. On December 16, the Azerbaijani side handed over the bodies of 23 Armenian soldiers to the Armenians.
462 sq. km (33% of the total area) of Fizuli District (total area of 1,386 sq. km), were occupied during the 1988-1994 Karabakh conflict. Fizuli was the only district whose entire territory was liberated by military action during the war. After the Azerbaijani Army entered the city of Fizuli on October 17, the Armenian army withdrew from the entire southeastern front. For this reason, the villages in this direction were unattended and their liberation was announced late. The vast majority of villages announced by President Ilham Aliyev on November 9 had in fact been under the control of the Azerbaijani Army in late October. Yukhari Veysalli, the northernmost village of Fizuli District in the former NKAO, was liberated on November 7. Thus, all of Fizuli District came under the control of the Azerbaijani Army. The control of the Azerbaijani Army over Fizuli was also strategically important. The first airport in the previously occupied territories was built in Fizuli. The construction was completed very quickly, and the first plane landed at the airport on September 5. The route of the new road to Shusha also goes through Fizuli. Before that, one had to go from Fizuli to Shusha in the direction of Girmizi Bazar-Khankendi (R-31). As these areas remain under the control of Russian peacekeepers, a decision was made on November 16 to build a new road. Work began immediately. However, the large number of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines planted on the road beginning at Ahmadbeyli, especially in the area of Seyidahmadli, slowed down the process. By March 31, 2021, 5 loads of munitions, 207 anti-tank mines and 168 anti-personnel mines were found in the direction of Alkhanli-Seyidahmadli. On July 3, 2021, at the initiative of the Russian Federation, Armenia handed over to the Azerbaijani side maps of about 92,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines planted in the Fizuli and Zangilan Districts, in exchange for 15 Armenian soldiers. After that, the work picked up the pace and the construction of the “Road to Victory” is currently in its final stage.
Translated from Topchubashov Center