● Areg Danagoulian (special guest)
Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This week we’ll discuss the military aggression by Azerbaijan against Armenia that started on Sunday, July 12. Our main topics are:
● Clashes on the Tavush Border
● The Azerbaijani propaganda around Armenian threats on the Mingechaur reservoir
Later in the podcast, Asbed Kotchikian talks with Dr. Areg Danagulian about the dangers of Azerbaijan’s threat to strike Armenia’s Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP) with missiles.
Around noon on Sunday, July 12, Azerbaijani forces attempted to infiltrate the Armenian border in the Tavush region of Armenia. Upon initial shots by Armenian armed forces, Azerbaijani soldiers abandoned their vehicle and retreated, only to attack the Armenian army border post again and be repulsed after suffering nearly half a dozen deaths.
Later on Sunday evening Azerbaijan started intensive shelling along the Armenian border, and by Monday morning there were reports of drone attacks, shelling, and sniper fire. Azerbaijan also went on a PR and Cyber offensive. Armenian government sites were hacked, and both Azerbaijan and Turkey were trying to pin responsibility for the fighting on Armenia.
The attack was preceded by public threats to resume military action. As recently as the first week of July, Ilham Aliyev complained about the OSCE Minsk Group mediators and firmly told reporters that for Azerbaijan the military option was on the table. Since then the relative calm along the Armenian-Azerbaijan state border and the Azerbaijan-Artsakh line of contact (LoC) has degraded, culminating in the clashes of July 12th.
By July 14 Azeri losses had accumulated to over a dozen, including many high ranking officers at the Major-General, Colonel and Major rank levels. Armenia suffered military and civilian casualties as well, including a destroyed kindergarten. During intensive fighting, Tavush residents were asked to take cover in bomb shelters for days.
Now let’s do a deep-dive analysis with our well-informed guests.
● Emil Sanamyan wrote an article about these events for the USC Institute of Armenian Studies the day after fighting broke out. What are your thoughts about these continuing hostilities, is this just another routine flare-up, or are there more serious reasons to be worried here? Why the escalation now and why on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border (as opposed to the line of contact in Artsakh)?
● Azerbaijan appears to have been ready with its massive PR machine because within a day after the hostilities began Azeri press was full of one-sided statements by a large number of international Islamic organizations, Islamic countries and various other alliances such as the GUAM. Meanwhile, most other organizations and countries put out balanced statements calling for cessation of hostilities by both parties and a return to peace and negotiations.
● What are the dynamics driving the domestic political scene in Baku? Ilham Aliyev just fired his long-time foreign minister Elmar Mammadyarov for “ineffective negotiations” over Karabakh. There was a crowd estimated at 30,000 demonstrating in Baku demanding an end to negotiations and quarantine, and demanding war on Armenia. What is going on in Baku?
● Who is Azerbaijan’s new Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov? What do we know about him?
● Defense Minister David Tonoyan is well known for his “Active Defense Doctrine” which promotes a pre-emptive strike defense and departs from classic trench defenses to a more “deterrence through punishment” philosophy. Are we seeing this doctrine at play during these events?
● There was troubling one-sided language from Turkey, and also GUAM, which includes Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Azerbaijan currently holds the chairmanship of GUAM and likely penned the one-sided statement in the name of GUAM. More balanced statements have followed from individual GUAM countries. Meanwhile, only “balanced statements” have come from the international community.
○ The reaction from Turkey was quick and unprecedented in terms of its hostility. At the level of president, defense minister, and foreign minister we heard threats that “Armenia wouldn’t get away with this,” Cavusoglu stated that he’s ready to die for Azerbaijan. To what do we attribute this belligerent rhetoric?
○ The reaction from GUAM (an alliance between Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) was also quick. GUAM squarely sided with Azerbaijan, condemning Armenia for the attacks.
○ The reaction from other international partners were also quite equivocal. The OSCE Minsk Group, US, EU, Iran, and others all strove to provide a “balanced” response, urging both sides to de-escalate.
○ The reactions from the CSTO, and what can be expected from the CSTO. Why are the relationships with other CSTO members “not great”?
● Where do we go from here? What do we see happening next?
○ “Next time we start, we must…”
● Aliyev’s interview criticizing Minsk group (July 7)
○ “Their main point is that the problem cannot be solved militarily,” he said. “Who said that? We expect more serious, clear and targeted statements from the mediators.” --Aliyev
○ “մեզ համար անհասկանալի պատճառով” ???
○ DM also mentions “անհասկանալի պատճառով”
● The EVN Reports on this event:
○ Fighting Erupts on Armenian-Azerbbaijani State Border - 7/13/2020
○ Updates from the Armenian-Azerbaijan State Border - 7/14/2020
● Much more on Groong on Facebook.
Asbed Kotchikian talks with Areg Danagoulian
In this segment Asbed Kotchikian discusses a wide variety of aspects of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP) at Metsamor with Areg Danagulian. The ANPP’s significance to Armenia’s economy, energy security, and independence cannot be overstated. The power plant was shut down in 1989 following the devastating earthquake in Spitak, and when it was brought back online in 1995 after being shut down since 1989 it served as a lifeline and helped fuel Armenia’s economic growth for the next two decades.
Dr. Danagulian is Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. He is currently working on new, monochromatic methodologies for cargo screening as well as technologies for treaty verification via resonant phenomena and physical cryptography.
● How safe (structurally, operationally and strategically) is the Metsamor NPP?
○ What are the possible implications of a missile strike on Metsamor NPP?
○ Should Armenia be shifting away from nuclear power in the future?
○ Are the concerns about safety of the ANPP valid?
○ How long can the ANPP still be in service?
○ How resistant is it to earthquakes which have been mentioned as a security concern?
○ Within the context of the recent conflagration between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the latter’s threats to launch a missile strike on Metsamor, how realistic is the threat?
■ How resistant is the ANPP to potential military-induced nuclear catastrophe?
■ Is there some sort of a safety mechanism or protocol that can minimize the damage in case such a catastrophe takes place?
■ If you were advising Armenia’s government, are there any precautionary measures that you’d recommend be taken to reduce or mitigate the risk of a military attack on Metsamor?
■ What is the worst-case scenario in terms of a missile strike on Metsamor?
● How does nuclear fuel make its way to the ANPP? Doesn’t Armenia have Uranium resources of its own?
● Looking into the future, given the landlocked status and potential geopolitical constraints, how realistic is it for Armenia to bolster its nuclear security?
● During the war in the Tavush region, quite a few news sources applied self-censorship while covering the frontline. On the other hand social media was full of speculative statements and even factually erroneous news which created more confusion among those who were looking for news.
● On the Azerbaijani side, it seemed that they were ready and managed to roll out statements of support from some countries and international organizations.
● As a policy, Groong publishes news from (pro)Azerbaijani sources to inform its audience on what the “other” side thinks and says.
● Unfortunately the Armenian media landscape has difficulty breaking away from sensationalism and providing in depth analysis, to an extent that they usually publish FB posts by various individuals as news articles without any analysis.
There were many articles this week about Azerbaijan’s threat of a missile attack on the ANPP. In an article Forbes was rightfully cautious to write “alleged Armenian threat” about Azerbaijani claims that Armenia had first threatened to bomb the Mingechaur water reservoir in Azerbaijan, probably because they couldn’t verify it. Let’s clarify the chain of what was said, what was written, because we can see how misunderstandings can lead to dangerous places.
In a Factor TV interview on July 2, former Armenian Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutyunyan discusses (in minutes 12 & 13) that all of Azerbaijan is within reach of Armenian missile systems, and he EXPLICITLY QUOTES Russian general Lev Rokhlin (from a speech in front of the Russian Duma) (see minute 12:37 of the Factor TV interview) “…and here I bring you the statement of Rokhlin, who during a presentation in the Duma said: if the Armenian side used the SCUD systems, and targeted the Mingechaur reservoir, then two thirds of Azerbaijan would be under water.”
Gen. Lev Rokhlin died in 1998!
However, the news and rumors were spun offline and on social media to lead to an official threat from Azerbaijan, we can see how unverified information can quickly get out of hand. Regardless of that, we go back to what Emil Sanamyan says in the podcast: there is no way to equate nuclear terror with blowing up a reservoir.
Areas where we decided that need more exploration and discussion in the future:
● Turkey today, its foreign policy in all directions. What are the drivers of its foreign policy, its perceived strategic goals?
● The future of energy generation in energy in Armenia; renewable energy sources.
More on the state of the Armenian media in our future podcasts.
● Azeri armed forces shelled an Armenian army outpost in the northern Tavush province during a failed attempt to seize it. Three Azerbaijani soldiers have died and 5 were injured. The Armenian army suffered no losses.
● Skirmishes continued with Drones/UAV’s; Armenian forces had shot down many Azeri UAVs. Azeri deaths around 6-8. No Armenian losses.
● Over a dozen deaths on the Azeri side, including senior military personnel with the rank of Major-General, Colonel, Majors. The Armenian side also suffered losses but appears to have gained a strategic height that overlooks the Azeri Tovuz district.
● 13 Azeri drones were downed by Armenian forces since Sunday. The last UAV was an Israeli-made Elbit Hermes 900, Thunder-B recon drone, and Skystriker combat drones. The Elbit 900 is a very expensive, powerful drone and the first of its type to be downed.
● Armenia’s SU-30SM fighter jets went on combat duty, protecting Armenia’s air space.
● The U.S. House will Consider Measures Blocking Transfer of Defense Articles to Azerbaijan, a key vote set for Monday July 20.
● Several members of the US Congress condemned Azerbaijan’s military aggression against Armenia.
● Ilham Aliyev sacked his long-time foreign minister, Elmar Mammadyarov, after denouncing his poor performance in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Mammadyarov was replaced by education minister Jeyhun Bayramov.
● Clashes resume on Azerbaijan-Armenia border
● State Senators Portantino, Borgeas Condemn Azerbaijan’s Attack on Armenia
● US House will Vote on Jackie Speier’s Amendment Restoring Military Aid Parity to Yerevan and Baku
● Clashes ease on Armenia-Azerbaijan border: No casualties reported on Armenian side
● Azerbaijan threatens to cause a 'nuclear catastrophe' by attacking the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant, claiming Armenia has threatened its Mingechaur Reservoir. The claim is patently false.
That concludes our program for This Week in Review episode. We hope it has helped your understanding of some of the issues from the previous week. We look forward to your feedback, and your suggestions for issues to cover in greater depth. Contact us on our website, at groong.org, or on our Facebook Page “ANN - Groong”, or in our Facebook Group “Groong - Armenian News Network”.
Special thanks to Laura Osborn for providing the music for our podcast. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels, Like our pages and follow us on social media. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tavush, War, Border skirmish, Armenian Nuclear Power Plant, ANPP, Metsamor, Mingechaur Reservoir, Mingachevir, Baku, SCUD
Additional: Emil Sanamyan, Asbed Kotchikian, Vagharshak Harutyunyan, Lev Rokhlin, Flood