As the release of the conclusions of a formal inquiry into the 2016 April War in Nagorno-Karabakh loom, Armenia’s former president, Serzh Sargsyan, broke his years-long silence to give his side of the story in a press conference.
Sargsyan gave the press conference on 19 August.
The Special Committee on the Inquiry into the April War, which had organised the questioning, was tasked to investigate any possible shortcomings which may have occurred during the four days of clashes in 2016.
Headed by Andranik Kocharyan, an MP from the ruling My Step coalition, the 11-member Special Committee started its investigation on 4 June 2019 and in the past year has collected hundreds of hours of video recordings and thousands of pages of testimonies.
It concluded its work on 4 June 2020, and has promised to release its findings soon.
According to Kocharyan, the Special Committee aimed to understand if the country’s defence system was ready to prevent military action before the April War and if the Armed Forces were appropriately deployed.
The Committee’s report will detail the causes and consequences of the conflict as well as look into claims that the Armenian military was negligent during the conflict, including allegations that soldiers ‘were left alone in their barracks’ without commanders, that there was a lack of fuel and arms, and that there were severe lapses in military intelligence.
Kocharyan has also stated that the report might serve as a basis for other bodies to launch investigations including those that may result in criminal prosecution. However, he did not specify which bodies and what or who can be potentially investigated.
In his own defence
Sargsyan had announced that he would hold a press conference after being questioned by the Committee on 16 April 2020. He promised to address all claims and stated that the Committee had been created based ‘on political considerations’ and that its members have repeatedly ‘expressed biased and incorrect opinions on the April War’.
During the press conference, he read a statement he had given on 16 April 2020 during a closed-door hearing with parliament members which was organised by the Special Committee.
In his remarks, he stated that Armenia had won the April War. ‘Is there anybody who doubts the victory of the Armenian side during the 4-day war and can expertly prove that Azerbaijan won while losing most of its elite units?’ Sargsyan asked.
According to Sargsyan, ‘despite some minor shortcomings, almost all military, political, state and civilian parties did their best during the hostilities’.
Additionally, he tried to refute claims that Armenian forces lacked armaments during the fighting. ‘Yes, we’ve had issues with obtaining certain modern weaponry’, he said. ‘But that was not an obstacle for our victory.’
Nor had there been a lack of fuel, he added, stating that the country had a large amount of diesel fuel in reserve until his resignation in 2018.
The former President also decried alleged misinformation being circulated by the media about the amount of territory Armenian forces lost to Azerbaijan during the conflict — though he was not specific about which media, nor the numbers in question.
‘I can assure you that once the committee has finished its investigation and published numbers, I will address this issue,’ he said. Sargsyan has previously claimed that Armenian forces lost 800 hectares to Azerbaijan during the conflict, meanwhile Azerbaijani authorities claim that number is 2000 hectares.
Of the few faults he did admit to, the greatest was that of the failure of military intelligence under his watch. ‘We didn’t know that Azerbaijan was preparing for a large-scale military offensive,’ Sargsyan said. ‘In this regard, our intelligence failed; there’s no doubt about it.’
During the press conference, Sargsyan was asked if Russia had provoked the April War, or was perhaps aware of an Azerbaijani offensive. He firmly denied the claims, calling Russia Armenia’s ‘military-strategic partner’.
‘Up until April 2018, Russia had provided Armenia with over 50,000 tonnes of military-technical assistance for free,’ Sargsyan said. ‘And this does not include the Iskander and Tochka missile systems and $100 million worth of weapons.’
Such claims, he said, are tantamount to accusing the country’s ‘military and strategic partner’ of ‘betrayal’.
Sargsyan claimed that the reason for the April War was Azerbaijan’s desire to ‘change’ the direction of the negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict so they would be ‘based on an agenda that favoured them’.
He also claimed that Azerbaijan aimed to show that there was a ‘military solution’ to the dispute and that Armenia’s victory in the April War was due to the fact that Azerbaijan failed to accomplish this goal.
Sargsyan also denied claims that he had agreed to concede land in Moscow before the war. ‘I have never made arrangements that would harm our people or be a danger to our homeland’, he said.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.