The Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army was formed in the early 1990’s to protect the remaining ethnic Armenians in the autonomous state. It patrols and protects the “line of contact” that describes the final positions of the Karabakhi and Azeri forces as the cease fire was confirmed in 1994. Although, technically, a cease fire was declared, since that point there have been sporadic outbursts of sniping from both sides resulting in casualties and deaths. Whilst this is not sustained, it continues to maintain a tension that has to be managed with discipline and professionalism to prevent an unnecessary escalation of activities.
At its closest point the two armies are only around 30 metres apart which means that the opposing soldiers can communicate with each other, and, at the same time be more vulnerable to attack.
In Armenia, all men from the age of 18 have to serve in the Army for 2 years; one of the areas that they will be deployed into is Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR), and for some of that period they will be sent to the “line of contact”.
At my last visit, the NKR Ministry of Defence agreed to take me to one of their Military bases, and show me some of the initial training programmes for the new recruits. I was briefly introduced to the Base Commanders who looked very focussed and pre-occupied with managing their business. I had the opportunity to discuss at length, with a new recruit, what life was like for a young man going through his service. My primary impression was his feeling of pride at being allowed to serve in the Army and therefore to be able to contribute to the protection and freedom of his fellow Armenians. We spoke about the proximity of the opposing forces, and how, if the NKR soldiers followed the instructions of their senior officers, they would remain safe. There was a feeling that the Azeri forces were a little less disciplined, and perhaps were less controlled with their sniping. However, despite this, soldiers have been killed on both sides of the “line” since the ceasefire thus highlighting how difficult and fragile the position is.
Following this conversation, I was picked up by an officer in a well-worn Lada, and was driven a mile or so down the road to the training area for the new recruits. This was basic training – starting with practice in constructing / de-constructing a Kalashnikov with the target being around 20 seconds.
They then proceeded onto the practice of using the rifle, and correct positioning, albeit with no live rounds at this stage.
As you would expect, it was well-structured, and professional, and assured consistency of approach. My prescence provided some level of curiousity to the soldiers and a bit of humour as I queried the meaning of a cartoon of a very busty nurse. This was part of a light-hearted conclusion to one of the training boards, and was a brief opportunity to connect with the soldiers.
Although the training seemed routine, and these men were only doing their national service, I did reflect as I was being driven back that, before long, they would be on the front-line, and may be confronted with potential danger from sniper fire. This highlighted to me how routine and disciplined the training needed to be to assure the safety of each of the soldiers.
In separate conversations with civilians I asked what it was like to live in a state where war could, theoretically, start that day. Whilst most did not think about this too much, part of their reassurance was the fact that they had a trained, and resourced Army providing protection, and would be ready to fight should it be necessary.
Categories: Life and People Artsakh