Two other servicemen were wounded in the incident, which took place at a military base in Azerbaijan’s western Dashkesan region, near the border with Armenia.
It’s not clear what provoked the incident. But the shooting is the latest in a series of troubling events in the Azerbaijani military, including a similar shooting on a military base in May 2009, and the assassination of the country’s air force commander that February.
Ilqar Mammadov, a Baku-based political analyst, says the shooting will likely lead to criticism and sharper scrutiny of how the armed services are managed.
“This is a very sad incident. And it most likely reflects problems in the military administration,” Mammadov said. “These kinds of attacks happen occasionally on military bases, where sometimes emotions run high.”
Today’s shooting comes just days after President Ilham Aliyev awarded Defense Minister Safar Abiyev one of Azerbaijan’s highest state honors for building up the country’s armed forces.
The armed forces have seen their budget grow steadily in recent years, as Aliyev seeks to prove his country’s military superiority to neighboring Armenia, with whom it has an ongoing dispute over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Military spending has reached a substantial $1.5 billion, but little has been done to reform rank-and-file conditions in Azerbaijan’s poorly paid conscript army, where the International Crisis Group said in a 2008 report that corruption, nepotism, and mistreatment were common.
Many Azerbaijanis consider the Defense Ministry to be one of the country’s most corrupt institutions, and today’s shooting is likely to prompt criticism of Abiyev, who has served in his post since 1994.
Few details are available about the shooters or the victims. Speaking to French news agency AFP, Temur Abdullayev, a Defense Ministry deputy spokesman, said only that two soldiers had opened fire, killing four servicemen and wounding two others before killing themselves.
Officials at Baku’s Military Hospital say they are under strict orders not to disclose any information about the dead or wounded. The Military Prosecutor’s Office says it has launched an investigation.
Uzeir Jafarov, a military analyst and retired lieutenant colonel in the Azerbaijani Army, says he is skeptical that the military will address the potential underlying causes of the shooting, such as hazing, widespread corruption, and poor living conditions for conscripts.
“We have been demanding that the army leadership be replaced. But instead, they are honored with the highest awards, and have reached a level of such self-confidence that incidents like this one have become ordinary,” Jafarov says.
“There is a state of impunity in the Azerbaijani Army.”
Jafarov notes that following the May incident, when a soldier, Orxan Safarov, killed four officers at a base in Seyfali, “even the trial was held behind closed doors.”
Safarov, whose parents say he was a victim of hazing, received a life sentence.
In February, General Rail Rzayev, the commander of Azerbaijan’s air force, was shot and killed near his home in Baku, in circumstances that remain unclear.