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Karabakh Armenian Commander Reports Military Buildup

The commander of Armenian-backed forces in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Movses Hakobian
The commander of Armenian-backed forces in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Movses Hakobian
STEPANAKERT -- The commander of Armenian-backed forces in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh has said his military acquired significant amounts of new weapons this year and will continue its buildup, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Lieutenant-General Movses Hakobian estimated that the "military potential" of his troops grew by 20 percent in the first half of 2011.

"During this period, the qualitative and quantitative state of our weapons and military hardware changed quite a lot," Hakobian told a news conference in Stepanakert on August 12. "Quite serious reforms were carried out with the restructuring of two army brigades."

He added: "We rearmed one artillery regiment with new systems. The antitank and air defense means of a dozen battalions have been enhanced. And this year we will receive more tanks -- two more divisions -- and some of the weaponry of the army's air-defense system will be replaced."

Hakobian, who commanded some Karabakh Armenian units during the 1991-94 war with Azerbaijan, gave no other details of the buildup.

Armenia, whose armed forces are closely connected with the Karabakh military, is likely to be the main source of the arms acquisitions Hakobian reported.

The region's Karabakh-born defense minister, Seyran Ohanian, said in February that Yerevan obtained "unprecedented" quantities of modern weaponry in 2010. "The expansion of our military capacity will continue in 2011, and it will be no less large-scale than it was in 2010," he told RFE/RL.

Azerbaijani leaders regularly threaten forcibly to take back Karabakh and Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave if the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks yield no results acceptable to Baku. The Azerbaijani government plans to boost military spending to $3.3 billion this year, up from $2.15 billion a year ago and just $160 million in 2003.

Echoing earlier statements by military officials in Stepanakert and Yerevan, Hakobian insisted that the Armenian side is undaunted by the Azerbaijani military buildup. He said the Azerbaijani army will suffer another defeat if it attempts to end the conflict by force.

Still, the Karabakh general did not rule out the possibility of renewed war.

"In my view, if Azerbaijan thinks it can solve the [Karabakh] problem by military means, the resumption of hostilities will be possible," he said.

Hakobian noted in that context that instances of Azerbaijani troops opening small arms fire on Karabakh Armenian positions have increased markedly this year. He also spoke of their growing recourse to rocket-propelled grenades.

"They fired at us from grenade launchers twice last year and 10 times already this year," he said.

Hakobian said in December that the Karabakh military had strengthened its defense fortifications along the entire "line of contact" with Azerbaijan lying east and north of the disputed territory. Ohanian likewise stated last year that those positions had been beefed up significantly.

The Karabakh military chief was also asked to comment on the increasingly publicized problem of noncombat deaths among soldiers. The Karabakh army was rocked last year by two separate shooting sprees that left 10 soldiers dead.

In one of those incidents, a soldier gunned down four fellow conscripts and wounded three others in a reported dispute over music-player earphones. He was sentenced last week to life imprisonment.

"Right now we have around 5,000 soldiers [on simultaneous frontline duty] with weapons and live ammunition in their hands and the right to open fire at will," said Hakobian. "Due to a flawed psychological preparation and negative social phenomena entering the army, young soldiers commit crimes in some situations."

Hakobian said the local military has stepped up the crackdown on army crime and managed to reduce it.

Two soldiers have committed suicide and two others have been murdered in their army units so far this year, he said, adding that those cases have already been solved by military investigators.

Hakobian said there are criminal charges currently pending against 244 Karabakh military personnel, including about 50 officers.