Iskander strikes on Shusha
The most dangerous weapon in Armenia’s hands during the war was the Iskander-E ballistic missile system. It was fired at Baku immediately after the November 10 statement was signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia. However, the missile was intercepted in Khirdalan by the Barak 8 air defense system, which Azerbaijan acquired from Israel in 2018. Although the shock wave shook some buildings, the Azerbaijani government did not comment on the explosion in the skies of Baku either on that day or later. Nine days after the end of the war, the former head of the military control service of the Armenian Ministry of Defense Colonel General Movses Hakobyan admitted at a press conference that the Iskander ballistic system missile had been used against Azerbaijan in the Karabakh war, but he did not mention where exactly. On November 26, 2020, Artur Danielyan, a representative of the Adekvad movement, shared video footage of the launch of two Iskander missiles at Shusha at around 9:00 am on November 7. Former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan too said in an interview on February 16, 2021 that the Armenian army had used the Iskander missile system in the war: “I disagree with the statements that Iskander was not used by Armenia. I have reliable information that it was used in the last period of the war, and more specifically in the direction of Shusha.” At the same time, Sargsyan accused Pashinyan of using the missiles too late. In return, in an extensive interview a week after this statement, Pashinyan accused Sargsyan of buying poor-quality missiles: “Sargsyan must have answers to many questions and shouldn’t ask questions he doesn’t know answers to. Maybe he can answer why the fired Iskander missiles did not explode or exploded only to 10% of capacity? Maybe these were weapons from the 1980s.”
Although the Armenian opposition, as well as Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, acknowledged the use of Iskander missiles in the Karabakh war, President Ilham Aliyev said at a press conference on February 26, 2021 that these missiles had not been used against Azerbaijan: “I don’t want to give ironic statements on this topic, there have already been enough comments from Russian officials, members of the Russian parliament, and experts saying that a missile cannot explode to 10% of its capacity, that would take quite an effort. We didn’t see the launch of Iskander-E missiles. When this statement was made yesterday, it made us look into it again to see if it had really happened. And we saw that it had not happened. This is just them putting their foot in their mouth again… They say that Iskander was fired and the missile exploded to 10% of its capacity. Fired where, exploded how? This is a joke.” Following President Ilham Aliyev’s statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that none of the Iskander systems had been used during the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and that the missiles, along with all ammunition, had been kept in the warehouses of the Armenian Armed Forces. President Ilham Aliyev’s statement on the Iskander missiles is the result of Azerbaijan’s very good relations with Russia, especially after the war. The Azerbaijani government tried to escalate the crisis between the other two countries, using Pashinyan’s comments on Russian weapons, and planned to develop Azerbaijani-Russian relations. This issue was an important aspect for the Azerbaijani government to ensure full compliance with the provisions of the statement signed on November 10.
However, issues such as the incomplete withdrawal of the Armenian army from Karabakh between February and April, the smuggling of weapons and soldiers from Armenia, Armenia’s failure to provide landmine maps, and Russian being declared the second official language of the “NKR” worsened the relations between the two countries. This led to the resurfacing of the matter of the use of the Iskander missile system previously acknowledged by Armenian officials but officially denied by Azerbaijan. On March 31, 2021, a representative of the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) said that fragments of Iskander missiles had been found in Shusha: “On March 15, fragments of two Iskander-M missiles were found during mine clearance in the city of Shusha. The fragments were 780 meters apart.” Chief of General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Artak Davtyan declined to comment on the news, but Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary of the Russian president, said that this information was new and would be investigated. On April 13, the fragments of the Iskander-M missile were brought to Baku and displayed at the opening of the Military Trophy Park. Speaking at the opening of the park, President Ilham Aliyev said that they had sent a letter to Russia regarding this issue and were waiting for a response: “This is already visual evidence. It is evidence of Armenia’s war crime and we want an answer. How did this deadly weapon end up in the hands of Armenia? We have not received an answer yet. But we will get it. They used it after we liberated Shusha. We have enough information. We are just waiting for an official statement.” In an interview with AzTV on April 20, Present Ilham Aliyev spoke about Russia’s response: “I have read the response of the Russian Defense Ministry. The response was that the Russian side did not record the launch of a ballistic missile. In fact, this is not a complete answer to our letter because the main question in our letter was how the deadly Iskander-M missiles that cannot be exported ended up in Armenia? After all, this is implausible. There are only two ways: either by smuggling or in violation of international norms and regulations because the Armenian army can only have Iskander-E, which is an export version of the missile. The range of Iskander-E missiles is 280 kilometers. Iskander-M is a long-range missile. Its range is 500 kilometers. So the Armenian army could not have Iskander-M missiles in its arsenal. There are only two ways. There is no other way because no other country has these missiles. It is the question we must have an answer to. We are waiting for an answer.”
One month after the news, which was used by Azerbaijan as a leverage to pressure Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Baku and Prime Minister Ali Asadov visited Moscow. These talks took place right before units of the Azerbaijani army crossed into the territory of Armenia in several directions, and Russian officials, unlike France, made no statements against Azerbaijan in this regard.
Political discord in Armenia over the battles for Shusha
The loss of Shusha and the signing of the statement on harsh terms came as a great shock to Armenia. Shortly after the statement was signed, a large crowd gathered in the center of Yerevan and stormed into the Armenian parliament. Ararat Mirzoyan, speaker of the parliament at the time, was seriously injured in the process. Only after the appeal of the soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh did the unrest subside. The capture of Shusha by the Azerbaijani Army in a short period of time led to allegations in Armenian society that the city had been intentionally surrendered to Azerbaijan. Naira Zohrabyan, known for her nationalist rhetoric, said at the rally in Yerevan on November 12 that the thought of the sound of azan in Shusha was driving her mad. Turkologist and journalist Nairi Okhikyan maintained that the Gazanchi Church in Shusha would be turned into a mosque like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in an interview with the Armenian Public Television, “Our army fought to the last moment. Our political task was to make a breakthrough. The decision to stop the war in Nagorno-Karabakh was made after it became clear that it was no use fighting. I said I could not hand Shusha over. Stopping the war before would have meant giving up Shusha without a fight.” Pashinyan also blames the opposition for the loss of Shusha, citing a lack of manpower: “After the fall of Shusha, there were two attempts to recapture it: one completely failed, in another a group managed to enter the city—hence the inconsistency of information. When the chairman of the Prosperous Armenia Party Gagik Tsarukyan was released from prison, he announced that he would form a volunteer detachment and lead it personally. Then we saw that he met with volunteers and so on. But we never saw a detachment of volunteers led by Gagik Tsarukyan fight around Shusha. Maybe this is the reason that Shusha fell? Perhaps, if there were sufficient reserves, Shusha could have been saved. One of the key reasons was the absence of Tsarukyan’s volunteer detachment in the battles for Shusha.” Besides Tsarukyan, Pashinyan also blamed former Chief of General Staff Onik Gasparyan for the loss of Shusha. According to him, the reinforcement group dispatched to defend Shusha arrived in the area with a half a day’s delay, when it was already impossible to turn the tide. Armenia’s second president Robert Kocharyan voices serious doubts about the surrender of Shusha to Azerbaijan: “The saddest part is that the Azerbaijanis entered Shusha without any equipment. They got to Shusha by pickup trucks from Hadrut through the forests. This is where suspicions come from. Why didn’t anyone stop them along the way? There was a chance to do that. This is why people have good reasons to think a deal was fixed. And this talk of $5 billion is not just empty words. There has been a specific proposal, there is a record about it, this proposal has been made to this government too. Only after these authorities are gone will it become clear what actually happened. I have very strong suspicions that Shusha was indeed surrendered intentionally.” Armenia’s third president Serzh Sargsyan shares his views on the battles for Shusha in an interview with Armnews TV journalist David Sargsyan.
“Why wasn’t defense of Shusha and Khankendi organized?”
“You know, there were many different ways not to allow this war to end this way. War is a disaster, and when a disaster hits, you must try to use everything. What stopped them from inviting Seyran Ohanyan and Yuri Khachaturov as advisers to Onik Gasparyan? They’re experienced military people, aren’t they? Onik Gasparyan had been the Chief of the General Staff only for 2-3 months by then, and being the Chief of the General Staff is not a game, and even more so during hostilities. And both Ohanyan and Khachaturov conducted many military operations. All right, what stopped them from inviting Levon Mnatsakanyan and Samvel Karapetyan to consult Jalal Harutyunyan, who was as inexperienced? Random people ended up in high positions, people who cannot tell an assault rifle from a machine gun. Isn’t that a crime?”
“At the final stage of the war, the defense was entrusted to the people you mentioned: the defense of Shusha was on Seyran Ohanyan, the defense of Khankendi was on Levon Mnatsakanyan.”
“It was done for a different reason. I’m sure it was done to shift the blame for the loss of these cities on them. You might have noticed that in early November the Civil Contract Party press began praising the heroic efforts Seyran Ohanyan was making to defend Shusha. I was surprised, but less than in two or three days they began to accuse Seyran Ohanyan of not being able to keep the city. Knowing hundreds of officers, dozens of generals, I have not been able to find out to this day who led the defense of Shusha, of Hadrut, and who was in charge of this front in general.”
“Did Shusha fall or was it surrendered? What is your opinion?”
“Of course, Shusha was surrendered. I’m not saying that it was handed over intentionally. I already knew in October when the war would end. When acquaintances, colleagues with whom I spoke, asked me how I thought when the war would end, I said unequivocally that it would happen when the Azerbaijanis would take Shusha.”
“Was it clear to you that this was their goal from the start?”
“It was clear to me. Based on the actions of the Azerbaijani army, based on Aliyev’s statements, based on where the Azerbaijanis were moving, I came to this conclusion with confidence.”
In an interview with Aysor.am, former Armenian Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanyan thanked Serzh Sargsyan for his opinion and said that he had not been in charge of the defense in Shusha: “I would like to thank the third President of the Republic of Armenia for getting the truth across to our society. As for Shusha, I was in Shusha several times during the 44 days of the war for various reasons. In early November, I was there at the request of Arayik Harutyunyan. I left Shusha on the morning of November 6 at 5:30. As for the shady moments regarding the surrender of the city, I believe that when the commission of inquiry is set up, it will reveal all the issues.” Artur Vanetsyan, leader of the Homeland Party, accuses the government of failing to appoint Major General Vitaly Balasanyan to command the defense of Shusha: “Vitaly Balasanyan said to Nikol Pashinyan, ‘What is the most difficult section of the front?’ Nikol Pashinyan said it was Shusha. Vitaly Balasanyan said, ‘Put me in charge of the defense of Shusha, and if I fail, this will give you a reason to stand up and publicly say that Vitaly Balasanyan was unable to defend Shusha and Shusha fell, you can declare me a traitor then.’ Pashinyan agreed, but Balasanyan was never put in charge of the defense of Shusha. The question now is why was Balasanyan not allowed to take care of the defense of Shusha?” Semyon Pegov, war correspondent for the WarGonzo project who deceived the Armenian public during the war, joined the political discord over Shusha in Armenia, accusing the government of deliberately handing over Shusha to Azerbaijan.
In an interview on November 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended Pashinyan, bringing up the discussions between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan during the war: “On October 19-20, I had a series of phone conversations with both President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan. It was when the armed forces of Azerbaijan regained control over the insignificant territory of the southern part of Karabakh. In general, I managed to convince President Aliyev that it was possible to stop the hostilities, but the return of refugees to Karabakh, including the city of Shusha, was his essential condition. But to my surprise, the position of our Armenian partners was formulated in such a way that it was unacceptable for them, and Prime Minister Pashinyan told me directly that he saw this as a threat to the interests of Armenia and Karabakh. Therefore, the allegations of some kind of betrayal against him are groundless. It’s another matter whether it was a right or wrong thing to do, that’s a different story. But this is not a question of betrayal.” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recalls the events of October 19: “On October 19, Arayik Harutyunyan called me and said that the war must be stopped. He also said that he was expressing this point of view not only on his own behalf, but also on behalf of Arkadi Ghukasyan, Bako Sahakyan, as well as Robert Kocharyan, Serzh Sargsyan and Levon Ter-Petrosyan. I called Putin and he said that, in his opinion, this should be done according to the logic of the Russian proposals. That is, postponing the question of the status, surrendering the surrounding districts, and introducing Russian peacekeepers. I said that peacekeepers should be deployed along the border of the former NKAO and along the Lachin corridor. Putin agreed, and we agreed that I would call again after discussions. I called Arayik Harutyunyan and said that the above option is possible. He said he agreed. After that, I invited extra-parliamentary forces and told them about my decision. The reaction of many of them was reluctant, and some posted after the meeting on social media that those who would keep the people from fighting were traitors, etc. On the same day, I called a meeting of the Security Council with the participation of representatives of parliamentary factions. The President of Armenia and the Catholicos were also present. The next day Bako Sahakyan and Arkadi Ghukasyan during a meeting with me said that they did not want to come to an agreement without specifying the status or a mechanism for specifying the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. But all this was unimportant, because I had made the decision and was going to see it through. The next day, Putin called as agreed. He said that Aliyev had agreed, but the peacekeepers should not be deployed along the border of the NKAO. Since Hadrut and Talish were under their control now, the Azerbaijanis did not agree to withdraw from these lines, so the peacekeepers should be deployed on the territory of the former NKAO along the current actual line of contact. In addition, the Armenian side must commit to the return of Azerbaijanis to Shusha. Thus, the truce became impossible, because I said that even if I agreed on the issue of Hadrut, I could not imagine the possibility of surrendering Shusha. If it happened, 90 or more percent of the population in Shusha would be Azerbaijanis, who would control the road to the capital.”
Vice Speaker Lena Nazaryan, member of the My Step Alliance, responded to the allegations that Shusha had been handed over intentionally: “When the Armenian side saw that the situation was grave, it agreed to return 7 districts, but Aliyev also added the city of Shusha to this. The Armenian side deemed the surrender of Shusha unacceptable and decided to continue to fight, thinking that it could turn the tide of the war. But this did not happen, and the statement was signed when Shusha was falling. If on October 19-20 Armenia agreed to the return of Azerbaijani refugees to Shusha, today we would be accused of surrendering Shusha. Now we are still being accused, but Shusha was captured, not surrendered.” After the war, Nikol Pashinyan’s views on Shusha caused a discord not only between the prime minister and the opposition, but also among members of his own government: “In every single possible scenario, we were to give Shusha to Azerbaijan to stop the war. In general, the issue of Shusha has been the subject of discussions during all the negotiations so far, and this is an indisputable fact.” Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan refutes Pashinyan’s statement: “At no stage of the negotiation process was there the issue of us surrendering the city of Shusha.” Press Secretary of the Armenian Foreign Ministry Anna Nagdalyan posted on her Facebook account that giving Shusha to Azerbaijan was never part of the discussions on Nagorno-Karabakh. Immediately after this statement, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that the parliament had decided to dismiss Zohrab Mnatsakanyan from the post of Foreign Minister. According to the Armenian Civilnet Internet platform, what Pashinyan said about giving Shusha to Azerbaijan was true and that the issue had been discussed during the Key West talks. The British historian Thomas de Wall confirms this: “Armenia was supposed to provide an opportunity for 95 percent of Azerbaijani refugees to return to their homes. In addition, a road to the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan was to be opened through the territory of Armenia. Instead, Azerbaijan had to give up Karabakh, with the exception of the city of Shusha.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had defended Pashinyan against the allegations concerning Shusha, said that the issue of giving Shusha to Azerbaijan had not been discussed before the war.
Most of the Armenian servicemen who took part in the combat see the city as an objective military loss. Former mayor of Shusha Artsvik Sargsyan attributes the loss of the city to the lack of correct tactics and ammunition: “The defense of Shusha was to be organized and started from the time of the Hadrut battles. We should have realized back in Hadrut that they were moving forward. Every time there was a talk of retreat, it was stressed that we were retreating in order to eventually launch an artillery strike, then to encircle them and finally finish them off. However, retreating, we ended up in Dashalti. We also had a shortage of weapons. At one of the positions there were mortar rounds, but no mortars. This is why the defenders could not put up proper resistance to the enemy.” Artsrun Hovhannisyan, spokesman for the Armenian Ministry of Defense, describes the loss of Shusha as a surprise: “Many things about Shusha are unclear to me. I was there on November 6. There were many combat episodes that don’t make sense to me. The first blow was very heavy, targeting many military units at the same time, including our headquarters in Shusha. On November 8, when I was at Petros Ghazaryan’s, there was information from the Ministry of Defense that we had almost cleared the city of saboteurs. We waited for the city to be cleared on the morning of the 9th, but we know what eventually happened on the 9th. Unfortunately, we lost, and all this should be thoroughly investigated. Only now, after the war, I understand how large the forces opposing us were, what kind of technologies were used. Waging a war against an enemy who has such an advantage is very difficult.” Roland Aydinyan, a participant in the Sighnag operation and commander of the “Shahen Megryan” detachment, blames former “NKR” commander Samvel Babayan for the capture of Shusha and its suburbs by Azerbaijani units.
Major John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point describes the battles for Shusha as follows: “The capture of Shusha was a major strategic victory for Azerbaijan, and it ultimately decided the outcome of the war. Once Shusha fell, Armenia was forced to surrender out of fear that Azerbaijani forces would be able to target and possibly seize the territory’s capital, Stepanakert, just a handful of kilometers away. Cities have always been operational and strategic objectives in war. They are the centers of political and economic power for nations. They also start, grow, and expand along trade routes, key passes through ground that is otherwise challenging to maneuver through, or coastlines where ports connect global naval supply lines. In short, they are very often built on key terrain, and at the very least they offer control over important lines of communication. As cities grow in number, size, and complexity, some argue that military forces should simply avoid them and the unique challenges they pose. Shusha shows that this is simply not an option. They are unavoidable and militaries must prepare to operate in them to be effective in any war.” President Ilham Aliyev spoke about the capture of Shusha again at the meeting with the military in Shusha on January 15, 2021: “I am confident that the Shusha operation will be included in leading international military schools’ textbooks. I already know that experts from many developed countries analyze every single day of the 44-day war because every day of the 44-day war is a story of triumph. The liberation of Shusha was a tremendous blow to the enemy because the enemy thought that it was impossible to liberate Shusha, and they were probably right to some extent. Panah Ali Khan built this city, so that steep rocks and natural landscape would protect Shusha from all sides. In May 1992, Shusha was occupied due to the betrayal of the then leadership of Azerbaijan and the PFPA-Musavat duo fighting for power. At that time, the Armenians gave their so-called operation a name, ‘Wedding in the Mountains’. We have arranged a ‘wedding’ for them they will never forget. The heroic sons of Azerbaijan liberated Shusha from the occupiers by conducting a flawless military operation, demonstrating courage, bravery, heroism, strength and national spirit. After a long break, Azerbaijan’s flag was raised in Shusha on November 8. In my remarks at the inauguration of the magnificent National Flag Square in Baku, I said the day would come when Azerbaijan’s flag is hoisted in the occupied territories, including Shusha. And this is the day. I remember some representatives of the Armenian separatist regime saying at the time that Azerbaijan’s flag could be raised in Shusha only if Azerbaijan recognized the so-called ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’ and then opened an embassy in Nagorno-Karabakh. Notice what disgusting and arrogant expressions they used. They are hiding like mice now, tight-lipped, unable to utter a word.” In another speech on March 2, 2021, President said: “They still cannot understand how we got to Shusha. They do not understand, they are asking each other how it happened. Sometimes this issue is brought up in the press. But someday they will understand that this is an epic tale of unparalleled courage, heroism and selflessness of Azerbaijani special forces and other special military units. However, it is no longer a secret today that the special forces of the border service, internal troops, security service, intelligence service, special forces of the Nakhchivan army were involved in the combat operations. Each of them had their own assignment under a single command. Our special forces made a great contribution to the liberation of our territories in those 44 days. Apart from long-term fortifications, the natural terrain was also a problem. They had to climb the mountains, from the foot to the top. The capture of Shusha is a dastan, a saga of its own, yes, it is an epic.”
Robert Kocharyan could not conceal his astonishment when talking about the Azerbaijani Army’s Shusha operation: “We need explanations here. Up to the village of Sheher, Azerbaijani units could drive along the roads. But the road between Sheher and Chanagchi lies through Girmizi Bazar, which remained under the control of the ‘NKR’. That is, from this point to the suburb of Shusha Dashalti, the troops moved along country roads or even off-road. It is more than 20 kilometers in a straight line. Unlike plains, mountains are challenging, the choice of routes there is limited, and travel time gets many times longer. Off-road progress is slow, and troops on the march are a good target. The same narrow winding corridor has to be used for supply, evacuation of the wounded, and so on. One wonders how the Azerbaijani military were able to ensure their logistical support, how the wounded were evacuated.” Middle-aged Armenian soldier Arman Garayan recalls the battle for Shusha: “I arrived here on the second day of the fighting with my two brothers. At first, I fought in the north, and at the end my unit was dispatched to Shusha. It was there that I realized what a nightmare really is. We were vastly outnumbered. They were coming at us in waves. Visibility in the mountains at night is near zero because of the dark and dense fog. In order to detect sabotage groups of Azerbaijanis in advance, our fighters scattered potato chips around our positions and sat and listened. If you hear a crunch, it means the enemy is close, sound the alarm.” Narek Caninyan, 21, said that the enemy was advancing rapidly despite the losses: “We see an approaching column of 400 people. We fire, then fire again. They are scattered, but another group follows, and it’s twice as large.” Andrei Nalbanzyan compares Azerbaijani soldiers to zombies: “Our guys fired on the lead vehicle from an ATGM! Missed by a few centimeters, and the shooter behind the machine gun didn’t even blink, he just smoked his cigarette and fired long bursts at our guys. My friends, who engaged in close-range gun combat, also said that the enemy had inhuman stamina. You hit one in the shoulder from an assault rifle, and he doesn’t even notice, he just keeps moving forward, like a terminator.”
Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military expert, described the Shusha battles in an article: “The Azerbaijani military uses modern night vision systems, which is why they stormed Shusha at night. All modern armies prefer to fight and attack at night, which gives an additional edge over a worse equipped enemy. The Azerbaijanis have many different Israeli, Turkish and South African armored all-terrain vehicles. They are well prepared for combat in rugged mountainous terrain and are supported on the battlefield with high-precision missile and artillery fire. The Azerbaijani command sees everything that is happening in the theater of operations, all significant movements of the enemy, clearly and in real time. The Armenians are practically unable to concentrate and advance they forces and equipment secretly. In this kind of situation, it is reasonable to try to use small groups of fighters, but the Armenian conscripts and reservists are not ready to fight like this, and their morale seems to be starting to falter after a month and a half of continuing defeats.” Russian military expert Alexei Khlopotov compares the capture of Shusha to the legend of the 300 Spartans: “The mountain special forces of Azerbaijan wrote a heroic page in this war—the storming of Shushi in a hand-to-hand combat, with knives and pistols, that was something no one expected. I cannot call the soldiers’ courage an “innovation”. But no one expected such a move. This assault will soon become a legend, akin to that of the 300 Spartans.”
Along with Khankendi, Shusha was shelled from day one of the war, September 27. The Armenian army suffered the heaviest losses in this direction on October 4. The culture center in Shusha where the swearing-in ceremony was held was bombed. According to initial reports from Azerbaijani sources, about 300 servicemen were killed in the building. The full details of the incident became clear in an interview prepared by Russian journalist Ilya Azar on October 7: “Our driver, Sinod, says that when the building was bombed, there were 600 military and policemen inside. They gathered for a meeting in a civilian facility intentionally, to avoid becoming a target. But there was a traitor who informed the enemy. Harut, one of the first responders clearing the rubble of the building, says that there was indeed a meeting of the military in the club on October 4, and there were about 300 people inside. The first responders have already carried 19 dead bodies out of the building.” It became known after the war that the strike on the building was possible because the location had been given away by the radio signals emitted by smartphones, which revealed a large gathering. It was determined that the military must have gathered in one place, and the location was hit with a missile.
The Shusha operation went down in history as the battle in which both armies suffered the most casualties during the war. Deputy Commander of the Defense Army Hovhannes Sargsyan was killed in the battles for Shusha on November 7. This was the third largest loss of the Armenian army after the wounding of Lieutenant General Jalal Harutyunyan and the death of Artur Sargsyan killed in the village of Chartar. On the same day, senior lieutenants Narek Hovhannisyan and Tovmas Tovmasyan were also killed in action fighting in the Dashalti-Shusha direction and were posthumously awarded the title of “Hero of Artsakh”. Mkhitar Arushanyan, head of the village community, Artur Arakelyan, commander of the village detachment, and his son Kamo Arakelyan were killed during the Dashalti battles. The heavy losses of the Armenian army in Shusha can be seen in the video footage made by foreign journalists. Former officer of the Special Forces of the Nakhchivan All-Arms Army Colonel Tehran Mansimov said that he had counted the bodies of 730 Armenian soldiers in and around Shusha. Arayik Harutyunyan said that the bodies of 150 Armenian soldiers had been removed from Shusha and its vicinity over two days after November 10. Addressing the parliament on November 16, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan commented on the rumors that the country’s government had handed over the city to Azerbaijan, bringing up the losses in and around Shusha: “I didn’t want to bring this up, but over 300 bodies of dead soldiers have been transported from Shushi over the past 2 days. Over 300 dead bodies. Can you imagine the scale of that battle? And there are people who say that the generals or the political leadership allegedly ordered not to fight for Shusha. On whose orders did these people fight and die then?” The body of an Armenian soldier was last found in Shusha during construction on October 18, 2021, and handed over to the Armenian side. According to Armenian sources, as a result of the capture of Shusha and Dashalti by the Azerbaijani Army, 4,500 civilian Armenians living in Shusha and 650 in Dashalti became refugees. The total number of casualties of the Armenian army in Shusha has not yet been announced.
In the battles Shusha, the Azerbaijani side suffered the most losses in the war after Fizuli, Sugovushan and Khojavend. The number of units of the Azerbaijani Army fighting there is still unknown. Since President Ilham Aliyev awarded 5,784 servicemen with the For the Liberation of Shusha Medal, we can say that more than 6,000 people fought there in total. Lieutenant Colonel Ramiz Jafarov and Lieutenant Colonel Bahruz Abushov of Special Forces were killed there. In total, the Azerbaijani army lost 356 soldiers in the battles for Shusha. Semyon Pegov says that up to 500 Azerbaijani soldiers could be killed by the Iskander-M strike on Shusha. Given that a total of 356 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed during the Shusha operation, this figure does not seem correct. According to Artur Danielyan, there were also Armenian servicemen in the city when the missile was launched. Therefore, it is impossible to determine the full extent of losses.
One of the key paragraphs of the trilateral statement of the Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian leaders was related to Shusha. The Azerbaijani side made a special addition to it on the Khankendi-Lachin road bypassing Shusha. A lookout post of the Russian peacekeepers from the 15th separate motorized infantry brigade was set up outside the city on November 13. A checkpoint of the Azerbaijani army was set up at the northern entrance to Shusha on the Khankendi-Lachin road. The biggest issue in Shusha after the war was roads. As the Girmizi Bazar-Khankendi-Shusha road remained under the control of the Russian peacekeepers, a new road to Shusha had to be built. The new highway, the foundation of which was laid on November 16, 2020, started from the village Ahmadbeyli of Fizuli District (M6). It was called the “Victory Road” because it passes through the route taken by the Azerbaijani Army during the Shusha operation. The 101-km “Victory Road” was officially opened on November 7, 2021 by President Ilham Aliyev. The first post-war work in Shusha was the construction of a power line and the repair of the former Shusha hotel. The tomb of Mullah Panah Vagif, which had been destroyed during the occupation of the city, was completely rebuilt in August 2021. The “Gazanchi” church, which was bombed during the war, is also mentioned among the architectural monuments being restored. In view of the special role of the city in Azerbaijani culture, President Ilham Aliyev declared Shusha the “culture capital of Azerbaijan” on May 7, 2021. The most important event in the city was held in June 2021. After a one-on-one meeting between President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Shusha on June 15, the “Shusha Declaration on Allied Relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Turkey” was signed. Under the new agreement, Turkey and Azerbaijan will take joint steps to protect each other in the event of a threat from a third country. During these talks, President Erdoğan also announced that Turkey would open a consulate general in Shusha.
The Armenian side has been more cautious speaking out about Shusha after the war. However, Armenian public and political figures have conflicting opinions on this issue as well. Former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and leader of the Homeland Party Artur Vanetsyan believe that Shusha can be returned through negotiations. Although Major General Vitaly Balasanyan supports the return of Shusha through negotiations, he does not agree with the popular sayings that “Shusha is the key to Karabakh” and “who controls Shusha controls Karabakh”: “Shusha, of course, is a strategic location. However, I do not consider Shusha a symbol. Some say that by losing Shusha we lost Karabakh and so on. I don’t think so.” In general, the Armenian society wants the current status quo to remain permanent and the Karabakh issue to be resolved through negotiations. The main reason for this is the brilliant victory of the Azerbaijani Army in the war and the new political realities brought by this victory. In the context of these political realities, the Azerbaijani government will try to reintegrate the territories currently controlled by the Russian peacekeepers into Azerbaijani society. Time will tell how successful this endeavor will be.
Translated from Topchubashov Center