In the exclave of Nakhichevan, the Azerbaijani authorities carried out a significant arms build-up, thereby increasing the strategic importance of the territory as for Azerbaijan, and for his enemy — Armenia.
Nakhichevan is separated from the rest of Azerbaijan cut off Armenia, but it does not border with Nagorno — Karabakh, the epicenter of the ongoing conflict between the two States. This part of the territory of Azerbaijan situated closer to Yerevan and other strategic objectives in Armenia. Accordingly, given the increasing, apparently, the threat of renewed full-scale war is growing attention to Nakhchivan.
Another strategic consideration for the Azerbaijani authorities is that the family of President Ilham Aliyev, a native of this area.
Azerbaijan established in Nakhchivan, a new unit known as the joint army group (special forces). He was also stationed in the exclave of new air defence systems, and missiles and artillery, including rocket systems “Smerch”, T-300 “Kasirga” and T-122 “Sakarya”. Also, there are annually conducted joint military exercises with Turkey.
“The enemy should know that Nakhichevan are protected by the most professional army,” — said the defense Minister Zakir Hasanov during a recent exercise in June.
In the hot period of the Karabakh conflict in the early 1990-ies in Nakhchivan too, occurred the collision, but then there it was relatively quiet.
Recently, the attacks mainly occurred along the line of contact in Karabakh and the nearby territories. But then the situation began to change, and during heavy fighting in April 2016 on the border of Nakhichevan with Armenia have been several skirmishes. In addition, in August 2016 Azerbaijan shot down reconnaissance drone, which, according to the Azerbaijani side, belonged to Armenia.
“The enemy should know that in case of provocations against Nakhichevan, we will give a strong response and within a few minutes all the major cities of Armenia will be attacked, Hasanov said shortly after the fighting in April last year. — We all know that the defense of the Nakhichevan was organized at the highest level that Nakhichevan protects the most professional army”.
Armenia is closely watching the arms build-up in Nakhichevan. “We just have to remember that are facing the threat of resumption of hostilities, and aggression from the enemy may be initiated in either direction,” said Armenian political analyst Hrant Melik-Shahnazaryan.
Military buildup in Nakhichevan started in 2013, when Hasanov reshuffled the ranks of the military leadership in the region, as President Aliyev signed a decree on the strengthening of the armed forces in the exclave.
Currently, in Nakhichevan ‘ there are nearly 20 thousand military personnel (with a total population army in about 67 thousand soldiers), about 400 armored personnel carriers, aircraft, air defense systems and artillery systems. Moreover, the emphasis is not on quantity but on quality, said EurasiaNet.org one Azerbaijani officer on condition of anonymity. “Has not changed the number of personnel — the improvement was due to the internal structure of the forces and greater autonomy in making decisions in case of security threats,” said the officer.
One of the key roles in increasing played by Turkish aid. Ankara acts within the obligations of the security of Nakhichevan undertaken in accordance with the Kars Treaty of 1921 between Turkey and the Soviet Union.
In addition to annual exercises with the Turkish military, Azerbaijan has sought to raise the status of Turkey as a military player in the region, for example, after the trilateral meeting of the defense Ministers of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. There was also a gentleman’s agreement that all visits of high-ranking Turkish military or civilian, dealing with issues of defense, should include a stop in Nakhichevan.
The arms build-up accelerated in the past year. After the acquisition of Armenia, strong Russian ballistic missiles “Iskander”, which first made possible the targeting of Baku and oil infrastructure and other strategic targets in Azerbaijan, Baku became increasingly mention the importance of the Nakhchivan as a springboard for a counterattack. The border of Nakhichevan is located just 60 kilometers from Yerevan, and the Azerbaijani means “Tornadoes” (with a range of 90 kilometers) and MLRS “Kasirga” (100 to 120 kilometers) can easily fly to the Armenian capital.
“Nakhchivan army is able to perform any task, said President Aliyev during his visit to the enclave in January. — Today the military potential of Nakhchivan is at the highest level. It is based the most modern equipment, weapons, ammunition”.
But both sides apparently understand that the bombing of the capital of one state followed by a devastating counter-attack, and so the impact from the territory of Nakhichevan will be made only in the most extreme case.
In particular, the attack on Armenia from Nakhichevan can encourage Yerevan to demand that, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty Organization of collective security, Russia intervened in the conflict on the side of Armenia, which Baku is trying very hard to avoid.
“The worst case scenario of a full-scale war, the short distance between the exclave and the strategic goals and infrastructure of Armenia even more difficult for Armenia detection, tracking, interception and destruction fired at its territory of Nakhchivan missiles,” said Fuad Chiragov, an analyst with the Azerbaijan government Centre for strategic studies.
But “given that Armenia is a CSTO member state, Azerbaijan is unlikely to make the first move in terms of using its military potential in Nakhchivan as a springboard for attacks”, — he added.
Zaur Shiriev is a fellow of the Royal Institute of international Affairs (Chatham House).