BY LUSINE MUSAYELIAN
STEPANEKERT (RFE/RL)—The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s Armed Forces have acquired significant amounts of new weapons this year and will continue the military buildup in the months to come, their commander-in-chief announced on Friday.
“During this period, the qualitative and quantitative state of our weapons and military hardware changed quite a lot,” Karabakh’s commender of the Armed Forces Movses Hakobyan told a news conference in Stepanakert. “Quite serious reforms were carried out with the restructuring of two army brigades.
“We re-armed one artillery regiment with new systems. The anti-tank and air-defense means of a dozen battalions were 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,” he said.
Hakobyan, who commanded some Karabakh Armenian units during the 1991-1994 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 reported by him.
Its Karabakh-born Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said last 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,” Ohanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Azerbaijan’s leaders regularly threaten to forcibly win 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 a year ago and just $160 million in 2003.
Echoing earlier statements 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 that it can solve the Artsakh problem by military means, the resumption of hostilities will be possible,” he said.
Hakobyan noted in that context that instances of Azerbaijani troops opening small arms fire on Karabakh Armenian positions have increased drastically this year. He also spoke of their growing recourse to rocket-propelled grenades.
“They fired at us from grenade launchers twice last year and ten times already this year,” he said.
Hakobyan said last December that the Karabakh military has strengthened its defense fortifications along the entire “line of contact” with Azerbaijani forces lying east and north of the disputed territory. Ohanian likewise stated last year that those positions have been beefed up significantly.
The Karabakh military chief was also asked to comment on the increasingly publicized problem of non-combat deaths among soldiers. The Karabakh army was rocked last year by two separate shooting sprees that left ten servicemen dead.
In one of those incidents, a soldier gunned down four fellow conscripts and wounded three others in a dispute over music player earphones. He was sentenced to life imprisonment last week.
“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 Hakobyan. “Due to a flawed psychological preparation and negative social phenomena penetrating the army, young soldiers commit crimes in some situations.”
Hakobian said the local military has stepped up the crackdown on army crime and already 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 all of those cases have already been solved by military investigators.
In Hakobyan’s words, criminal charges are currently pending against 244 Karabakh military personnel, including about 50 officers.