I’m not a huge YouTube person, but this genre of “day by day”‘s for various historical events has become a popular genre and one of my favorites. Certainly a useful visual guide to reading about it. And in this case useful as a comparator to what’s happening today.
First observation – Armenia started off in a much worse position geographically. Indeed, as late as the start of May 1992, Artsakh had been a complete exclave with no physical connection to Armenia.
Second observation – initial Azeri successes in both wars. In June 1992, the Azeris successfully captured large parts of the northern and east-central parts of Artsakh. But then they stalled, and after see-sawing back and forth, the Armenians would be making constant advances from April 1993 until Azerbaijan was reduced to “human wave” tactics by early 1994 and a ceasefire in May 1994.
Now with Hadrun having fallen, the Azeris having seized a large part of the Artsakh-Iranian border, and with Fuzuli, in all likelihood, fated to fall sometime soon, we can say the Azeris have at the very least replicated their first month success in the previous war, with a far better kill ratio so far (perhaps ~1,000 Armenian KIA / 6,000 total during 1992-94 vs. ~2,000 Azeri KIA / 25,000 total during 1992-94). But will this hold? It did not, after all, during the first war.
We could take a point by point look at the reasons for the Armenian advantage during the first war and how it compares to the situation today:
(1) Strong defensive positions /// Perhaps the one thing that significantly privileges Armenians more, they’ve had decades to study their map out their lands to the finest detail, presight all the artillery, construct fortifications, etc. Verdict: Gain to Armenia.
(2) Higher morale of Armenian soldiers due to fighting a defensive war, though only became marked in 1993 and disastrous by early 1994 /// Can’t say it should be very different today – IF the conflicts lasts that long. However, Azerbaijan’s ability to weather losses is now higher due to more favorable demographics than Armenia, even relative to 1992. (Population gap has widened from 2.5x to 3.3x). They have also been inculcated with anti-Armenian propaganda over the past generation, as opposed to early 1990s era Azeris who grew up on Soviet “friendship of peoples” propaganda (though it never percolated deep in the Caucasus). I think the average young Azeri will be more committed than his counterpart a generation ago. Verdict: Minor gain to Azerbaijan.
(3) The Azeri Army being a bunch of unprofessional volunteers in 1992 and demoralized conscripts in 1994, the higher officer quality of the Armenians (in large part thanks to the Azeris’ own animosity towards the Soviet regime), and having a similar pool of post-Soviet military equipment stock /// Well, need I really repost my CMP and military spending graphs for the nth time. Verdict: Major gain to Azerbaijan.
(4) Likely higher human capital of Armenians per se /// Probably remains true, yes, it’s sometimes hard to believe seeing the videos of them clustering three trucks and 50 people besides a cliff, or camouflaging a tank like a big bush in an open field and not even clearing the tracks behind it. Then again, in such cases we are seeing a selection effect where clustered Armenians get blown up, we don’t see those cases – the vast majority – where they are dispersed and the Azeri drones either don’t shoot, or expend their munitions – or themselves – for nothing. Probably in net terms the Armenians remain innately higher quality soldiers as suggested by respective national IQs (~3 IQ point Armenian advantage over Azeris?) and past experience, but will be harder to translate into success for the same reason Germans rolled over the French and British in 1940 but couldn’t cope against the Western Allies’ much greater relative materiel superiority come 1944 (pertains to previous point). Verdict: No change.
(5) Motivated Armenian diaspora fighters vs. Shamil Basayev’s Chechen jihadists who did not like fighting for secular Shi’ites and were soon on their way out. /// Armenian diaspora patriotism is certainly still a thing, Kardashian aside, the Armenian community have already contributed more than $100 million to Armenia, that is not an entirely negligible sum – that already constitutes almost a fifth of annual Armenian military spending. But the Azeris now have access to Turkish-provisioned jihadists, they might not be any more enthusiastic than the Chechens, but they are paid generously for it and as such will not be as ready to desert as Chechens. Though, they’ll be less effective. Verdict: No change.
(6) In political terms, both Armenia and Azerbaijan were chaotic, unstable democracies in the 1990s /// Today Armenia is a democracy and Azerbaijan is an authoritarian dictatorship. The latter has distinct advantages in terms of more leeway over repressing anti-war agitators (not that Azerbaijan seems to have any problems with that… yet) and censoring information (e.g. casualties). Democracy, as well as the Armenian Genocide, might garner the Armenians some global sympathy – and the Armenians have been successful at getting their genocide recognized by more and more countries. But I don’t think that’s going to play a role outside Reddit. Verdict: Minor gain to Azerbaijan.
(7) The Turks did not interfere beyond a blockade and arms aid, with Russia providing arms to Armenia. Turkey is still oriented on joining the EU and avoiding a clash of civilization, with Turkish PM Demirel in 1992 explicitly opposing an open military operation in order to avoid a “greater Muslim-Christian conflict”. /// Turkey is now led by Erdogan, who has converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, thinks of Turkey as the budding core of a neo-Ottoman civilization, and is lighting brush fires on at least four different fronts (Libya, Greece, Syria, now Karabakh). So a significantly greater chance of overt intervention.
This is a highly relevant point. For instance, see that southern salient the Azeris have carved out in the last couple of days, advancing along the plains where the Armenian defensive advantage is weakest? In classical military terms, that’s a highly risky operation, at least without total air superiority. Azeri air power is quite limited, and can be checked by Armenian air defense and its four Su-30SM. But if the Turks join in as well, then its chances of success fall to zero. Verdict: Minor to potentially critical gain to Azerbaijan.
Physiognomy never lies: Abulfaz Elchibey; Nikol Pashinyan.
(8) Finally, relations with Russia – the ultimate key potential arbiter.
The President of Azerbaijan at the outbreak of the “hot phase” of the war was a guy called Abulfaz Elchibey. A former Soviet dissident, like many non-ethnic Russian “dissidents” he became an ultra-nationalist as soon as his tribe gained its independence, with the large-scale assault on Artsakh beginning within days of him coming into office in June 1992. At the same time, he thought it very Big Brained to follow an ultra-svidomist policy towards Russia:
During his one-year rule, Azerbaijani–Russian relations were damaged, with his politics being described in this regard as “Anti-Russian.” He was noted for using an interpreter when speaking to Russian figures, despite being fluent in the Russian language as he was educated in the USSR. Often teasing the Russian leadership, once declaring that among the Russian men who did the greatest services to democracy Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev, saying in a congratulatory telegram sent in connection with the adoption of a new Tatar constitution that “the heroic Tatar people” have contributed to the “awakening and revival of the Turkic world”.
(Nor did his calls for a Greater Azerbaijan endear him to the mullahs. Of course, not that Iran loves Aliyev either, but at least he got a productive relationship with Israel out of it.)
Anyhow, he was ousted in a coup a year later and replaced by Aliyev (the father of the current one), and spent the rest of his life as an opposition figure until his death from cancer in 2000.
Remind you of anyone? At least Pashinyan, to his credit, is aware enough to realize that continuing to countersignal Russia – see his record of jailing pro-Russian politicians, refusing to integrate air defense systems, and announcing that Russia “cannot be considered a real guarantor of Armenia’s security” (careful what you wish for) – at a time when his country is at war with its sworn enemies and Russia is it’s main hope of averting disaster, isn’t the Biggest Brained idea. To that effect, during this conflict he has made some moves towards rolling back its previous personnel decisions (e.g. dismissing the anti-Russian head of the National Security Service, the 29 year old (?) Argishti Kyaramyan, who had only been appointed this June).
But unfortunately for Armenia, Aliyev is far smarter than either of those Big Brains. He has maintained non-hostile relations with pretty much everyone apart from the guys he actually wants to displace: Armenians. Critically, this includes Russia. Even as Azerbaijan participated in various Euro-Atlantic groupings and voted against Russia on some of its critical issues in the UN, it avoided loud criticisms of Russia and continued to buy arms from it.
(Amusingly, this even included Azeri gutter media and Azeri netizens spreading fake news and doctored photos of Pashinyan meeting up with Soros – the irony being that, while Pashinyan might or might not be a “Sorosoid”, there is at least no photographic evidence that he ever met up with him, whereas Aliyev himself did in fact meet up with Soros at the sidelines of a Davos Summit. Anyhow, when you’re accused of having met Soros and most of “Based Twitter” believes you, while having met Soros yourself and nobody batting an eye about it apart from Armenian Twitter wailing about the hypocrisy of it all… well.)
Verdict (on Russia relations): Potentially major gain to Azerbaijan.
Out of these eight factors that will determine Karabakh War II, Armenia has grown stronger only in one of them, while Azerbaijan improved its position on four. So I wouldn’t bet on the Armenians reversing their territorial losses, as they started doing in earnest around April 1993. Probably best case scenario is a proper ceasefire after the capture of Fuzuli (though why would Azeris stop, short of UN sanctions pressure?), or a stabilization of the frontlines leading to Azeri war weariness and Aliyev getting out while it’s still lower than the popularity boost from the current victories. Worst case scenario, which unfortunately can’t be completely excluded, is the complete conquest of Artsakh and the ensuing ethnic cleansing of Armenians from that region, following what happened in Nakhichevan a century ago.