Armenia vs. Azerbaijan, Round 2? Intensified Clashes Over Nagorno-Karabakh


Column of Azeri tanks around the Talis region. Via Cassad.

Another Flareup in the Caucasus

The past two days has seen some of the most intense fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh since the 1994 ceasefire that froze the conflict. It was a typical post-Soviet tale: Illogically drawn up borders, stranded Armenians in the historically Armenian territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the flareup of nationalist tensions in the late 1980s that resulted in the outbreak of anti-Armenian pogroms, and the slide into war between two collapsing states as Nagorno-Kabakh declared independence and deported its Azeris.

As it was, Azerbaijan collapsed faster. Composed of incompetent generals and unenthusiastic soldiers and facing a highly motivated enemy with support from Russia and the vast Armenian diaspora, the Azeris were unable to make gains in the region’s mountainous terrain and eventually retreated after being bled dry by a 5-1 casualty ratio. The Azeris continue to pine for revenge. There are monthly small-scale artillery exchanges, their borders are sealed (Turkey also blockades Armenia), and there was an infamous case in 2004 when an Azeri officer axed a sleeping Armenian to death while they were both on a NATO-sponsored training seminar in Budapest.

Officially, there were 18 Armenian dead and 12 Azeri dead in the recent clashes, as well as the loss of some military equipment. The Azeris claim this was provoked by Armenian bombardments. However, the higher number of Armenian dead plus the fact that the Azeris were the ones who seized a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh territory throws some doubt on these claims. (That said, the usually well informed Colonel Cassad claims that both sides’ losses were substantially higher, especially those of the Azeris).


The territories Azerbaijan has taken on April 2 according to an Azeri news source.

Three graphs that explain the renewed clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh

First, Russia is in a precarious position. The situation in Syria can change at any time while the conflict in Donbass has again been simmering up (recent reports from NVF troops indicate intense Ukrainian Army attempts to seize the E50 highway from Donetsk to Gorlovka and dozens of deaths on both sides). It is also apparently committed to keeping a low profile until the next EU vote on extending sanctions. Although Russia is formally committed to come to Armenia’s defense as part of its CSTO obligations, it has been carefully ambiguous on whether the guarantee applies to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized by noone. All of this will be factors that the Azeris are sure to be weighing and considering.

Second, since the 1990s, the Azeris have massively increased their military preponderance over the Armenians. It may by now be cliche, but it is true nonetheless that Azeri military spending exceeds the entire Armenian state budget. Although Armenia enjoys preferential rates for Russian weaponry – it is something like Israel with regards to the US in this regard – ultimately soaring oil revenues matter more. The two biggest spurts, around the mid-2000s and the early 2010s, were clearly associated with high oil prices.


According to the Comprehensive Military Power (CMP) index, which integrates personnel quantity, equipment stocks, and technology to provide an assessment of each country’s military potential across time and space, Azerbaijan’s preponderance over Armenia has climbed from a multiple of no more than 1.5 in the 1990s – nowhere high enough to force a breakthrough across heavily defended mountainous terrain – to a multiple of 3 in the last few years. At this degree of disparity, formerly impossible things become possible.


Third, the Azeri economy is extremely fragile. The collapse in oil revenues has forced Baku to impose capital controls and devalue the manat twofold, but nonetheless, foreign currency reserves have plunged from a peak of $15 billion to $4 billion by January. Its credit ratings have been reduced to junk. Discontent is beginning to brew with the Aliyev dynasty, which is criticized for corruption and the ineffective use of Azerbaijan’s oil wealth.



Most tellingly, military spending is going to be axed by as much as 40% in 2016. This will allow Armenia to tilt the balance of power back in its favor a bit.

What next?

So to sum this all up, as I noted at the start of the year, now would not be the absolute worst time for Azerbaijan to engage in some geopolitical adventurism, to take minds off economic woes. If there ever was a time for reclaiming Nagorno-Karabakh, it’s now. All the more so if in addition to the factors listed above Azerbaijan also enjoys support from a Turkey (and even Ukraine? Though tying the clashes around Yasinovataya to this would be a long stretch, and is probably connected mainly to Poroshenko’s visit to the US) whose relations with Russia have collapsed in recent months.

But there are reasons for be optimistic. The recent clashes are appearing to die down instead of escalating into something bigger. Neither side has declared a mobilization. Instead, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev is appealing to the Security Council with a renewed demand for Armenians to vacate the “occupied territories.” And the fate of the late President Abulfaz Elchibey – whom Ihham’s own father replaced in a coup after his string of losses during the Nagorno-Karabakh War – must weigh heavily on President Aliyev’s considerations.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Yevardian says

    Anyone know the connection (if any) between Albania and Caucasian Albania that reached critical enrichment levels? Or is it simply a linguistic coincidence.

    Get ready for Rehmat to say something offensively stupid about Armenian oppression of the poor, blameless, Mahometans.

    1… 2… 3…

  2. Simon Saradzhyan sums this up reasonably well (he comments/blogs on Russia stuff btw and is similar in tone to Adomanis and Aris)

    To summarise, a common or garden skirmish/ceasefire violation, the kind that’s been happening ever since the end of the war, that got out of hand. The big problem is that heavier and more destructive weapons are being used in these violations (heavy artillery rather than small arms), which have greater potential to start off a chain of events that leads to full scale war, and of course cause more misery to both sides even if they don’t.

  3. Thanks for a very informative briefing, Anatoly.

    All the more so if in addition to the factors listed above Azerbaijan also enjoys support from a Turkey (and even Ukraine? Though tying the clashes around Yasinovataya to this would be a long stretch, and is probably connected mainly to Poroshenko’s visit to the US) whose relations with Russia have collapsed in recent months.

    Just one question–and this may be outside of you area of expertise: What is Iran’s position on this dispute? I know that the Russians generally favor the Armenians. Although the Azeris speak a Turkic language, they are majority Shi’ite, I believe, and the southern part of their historic realm falls inside of Iran. I have also been told that the leadership of the Islamic Revolution–including the famous Ayatollah Khomeini–is disproportionately ethnic-Azeri (a sore point among some ethnic-Persians). Is Iran backing Azerbaijan then? Or are they neutral?

    What prompts the question is my belief that Washington and Tel Aviv could only benefit if Iran and Russia–the two sponsors of Syria–have a sudden falling out. Of course, you’re also absolutely right to point out the Turkish and Ukrainian angles.

  4. {Anyone know the connection (if any) between Albania and Caucasian Albania }

    No connection.
    A mis-identification by, if I remember correctly, Romans in their time, and it took root.
    The correct historic names in various languages are: Old Armenian: Aguank. Parthian: Ardhan. Middle Persian: Arran.

    The indigenous people eventually disappeared as distinct people: no one really knows what happened. It is thought that they blended into the larger Armenian population in the area (Artsakh’s Armenians), but there is no hard evidence at this time. They were Christians, before they melted away.

    {Get ready for Rehmat to say something offensively stupid…}

    I am ready.

  5. ilkarnal says

    Indications are that the Armenians did quite well – if the Azerbaijanis had done well the front would have collapsed and Aliev wouldn’t be retreating to diplomatic measures. Another case where the prediction of the ‘comprehensive military power index’ was dramatically reversed. The Yemeni war is an example of a far more dramatic reversal. A better predictor of future performance is past performance. Expect losers to keep losing, expect winners to keep winning.

    If you have further ambition than forecasting the continuation of trends, I think you need a different tack. Recognize that war is overwhelmingly about two things – people and geography. Capital matters but has severe diminishing returns, to the point where it actually doesn’t matter for any place where the people are worth a damn – worthwhile people get worthwhile military capital, because in the scheme of things weaponry is very very cheap. Even (economically) worthless people living in sand hovels manage to get more than enough weaponry.

    “Whatever happens, we have got the maxim gun, and they have not.” <—- these days are over. The most cost-effective and deadly piece of equipment in the world today is a rifle. It has held the crown for centuries. Going up against people without rifles, your superior technology is as important as a manpower or strategic advantage. Going up against people with rifles – you're almost on even ground, technologically speaking. You'd better be smarter than them, or outnumber them, if you want to win. The reason the west won victory after victory was that 1) the most basic and important military capital had not completely proliferated and 2) it was smarter and better organized than its opponents. When it went up against equally smart and equally organized enemies who had much less military capital but had the basics, it lost (Korea, Vietnam.)

    When you are fighting on the enemy's land, you need some sort of severe advantage. In a world saturated with military technology, this only comes in the form of being smarter than your opponent or more numerous than your opponent. Better equipped simply isn't worth thinking about by comparison – a smart opponent will have the equipment they need, and they will part ranks instead of getting gored by your elephants. Even a dumb opponent will have enough to make you bleed severely if you don't translate your greater intelligence into better strategy.

    There are 'counters' to men with rifles, thinking hypothetically. Men with rifles can't do much to battened-down tanks, for example. But it's never actually just 'men with rifles.' Basic recoilless rifles, IEDs, the many places where tanks have trouble maneuvering, and the massive logistics tail a tank requires are all weaknesses. If they genuinely plan to fight a battle against your tanks with their riflemen, then that falls under you 'outsmarting' them, or them outdumbing you. In this day and age, you will never get a free win from a capital advantage over a worthy opponent.

    So you have to look at the people and where they fight. You have to make judgements. The Americans are big but lazy and extremely arrogant, the Vietnamese are small but determined and smart, the Vietnamese are fighting on home turf, give it to the Vietnamese. The Americans are (see above,) the Iraqis are small and stupid, the Iraqis are not fighting on home turf (IMPORTANT!) give it to the Americans. Same as before, but the Iraqis are fighting on home turf – both deserve to lose, so both probably will. The Saudis are soft, lecherous pond scum, the Houthis are brave and rugged, and the Houthis are fighting on home turf. Give it to the Houthis.

    The Armenians are smart and tough, the Azerbaijanis are bigger but stupider, the Armenians are fighting on home turf, give it to the Armenians.

    Real AI would completely change this around. As of right now the combat value of a completely computer controlled (not remotely controlled) vehicle is negative. When that changes, everything turns upside-down. Capital becomes all-important. But if we're asking whether that's the case now, recent results speak loud and clear.

  6. Iran is totally neutral if not very slightly pro Armenia. Azeri nationalists have separatist aspirations in northern Iran (a few were protesting outside downing street last time I walked past it a couple of years ago), but nothing has come of their efforts.

    Kazakhstan is mildly pro Azerbaijan, which will potentially cause big problems for Russia if this thing erupts to such an extent that Russia is forced to act in any way.

    Georgia is mildly pro Azerbaijan, it has large numbers of Azeris and Armenians on its territory that surprisingly get on ok there (well at least not as badly as you would think). Armenians are subject to mild to moderate persecution from the government, Azeris are largely ignored.

  7. With the thoughts you'd be thinkin says

    Iran from memory I think backs Armenia for I think economic reasons, cultural reasons and national reasons. Armenia trades with Iran and wasn’t interested in jumping aboard the west policies to isolate Iran. Iranian Armenian are the largest christian community in Iran. Also I think Iran probably doesn’t look to fondly on Azerbaijani irredentism especially with the co-operation with the EU and the US in sanctions.

  8. Mitleser says

    The Azeris did gain ground, though.
    I suspect the Azeri government did not want more than a splendid little victory.

  9. Some background info:

    Armenians and Persians/Iranians are genetic cousins.
    Long story, but a while back, Armenians adopted Christianity, and Persians, originally Zoroastrian, adopted Islam.
    Republic of Armenia and Islamic Republic of Iran have very cordial, friendly relations.
    Lots of projects together of economic/development nature in the works.
    Every year, about this time, Iranian New Year of Novruz, 1,000s Iranian tourists flood into Armenia – to relax and let loose a little.
    (no Islamic religious police to watch over them).

    During the NKR war of liberation (1991-1994), Iran was officially neutral due to religious sensitivities, but provided crucial humanitarian aid to (Christian) Armenians. Some other things, not publicized. Iranians/Persians are geo-political rivals with Turks.
    Like Armenians, Persians are an ancient sedentary civilization, indigenous to the region, for 5,000+ years.

    As to ‘Azerbaijan’:

    The fake country was created in 1918 by a collusion of Bolsheviks, Turks, and Imperial British.
    The name ‘Azerbaijan’ was deliberately chosen, to lay claim to Northern Iranians regions named ‘Azarbaijan’ (with an ‘a’).
    All parties coveted a piece of Iran. Sure enough, the State of Azerbaijan today claims that Northern Iranian provinces of East and West Azarbaijan are, quote, ‘Southern Azerbaijan’ territories.

    Azerbaijan’s indigenous ethnic peoples, e.g. Talysh, are of Iranian stock. Caucasus Turks are invaders from East and Central Asia.
    Descendants of nomad Turkic tribes that invaded Caucasus. The indigenous peoples of Azerbaijan are oppressed by Caucasus Turks, who have the power.

    The name ‘Azeri’ is a made up name: there is no such ethnos as ‘Azeri’.
    The people of Northern Iranian provinces are Turkish speaking ethnic Iranian/Persian.
    They are not Turks.

  10. Immigrant from former USSR says

    And where Hyundai Azera came from?

  11. Azerbaijan is meant to be holding the Grand Prix in Baku in a short time. Odd timing for them to initiate a war, and risky too as they suck at fighting. For all they knew, Armenia could have bombed Baku and that would be the end of Azerbaijan hosting this important event.

  12. the conflict in Donbass has again been simmering up (recent reports from NVF troops indicate intense Ukrainian Army attempts to seize the E50 highway from Donetsk to Gorlovka and dozens of deaths on both sides).

    Interesting piece from Patrick Armstrong on the implications of the recent announcement of the reactivation of 1GTA, if that is indeed to be more than a bit of jingoist theatre.

    As well as being an indicator that Russia has decided it needs to prepare for a big war with NATO, it also occurs to me that 1GTA would be just what would be needed to take on the task of actually invading Ukraine, should that prove necessary after all (if, for instance, a President Clinton were to go all in on arming the Kiev regime for a proxy war). I daresay all the Russophobes claiming that Russia has already invaded Ukraine would be pleased to finally find themselves telling the truth. Stopped clocks, and all that.

  13. Real AI would completely change this around. As of right now the combat value of a completely computer controlled (not remotely controlled) vehicle is negative. When that changes, everything turns upside-down. Capital becomes all-important.

    Most likely only a matter of time. And probably less time than most people would think.

    But that’s hardly a comforting thought. First, the people wielding the technology will be the political/social elites in the west, first and foremost, and their interests are self-evidently not the interests of the nations they manipulate. Behind them will come the leadership elites of countries like China, Russia and other foreign countries. They don’t have the interests of US sphere nations in mind, either.

    Second, how long will such combat equipped AIs be under control anyway?

  14. [Most likely only a matter of time. And probably less time than most people would think.]

    Most likely not. Look beyond the foolish hype.

  15. Vendetta says

    I left my own critique of Anatoly’s ‘Comprehensive Military Power’ index back on the original topic. Was a bit disappointed he never got around to addressing of the criticisms that were left on it.


    I like what you’ve tried to do here and you have taken things a step forward from Global Firepower by attempting to incorporate some factors they ignore like troop quality and technological differences. However, you made a lot of arbitrary decisions and assumptions that have ended up giving you some very flawed results. Work on fixing and improving your CMP model before you rush forward to apply it everywhere.

    Saudi Arabia higher than Turkey, Israel, Iran, and Pakistan? LOL!

    Sure, they bought a bunch of expensive aircraft. But there is a world of difference between a collection of aircraft and an Air Force. Israel has an Air Force, Pakistan has an Air Force, Iran had an Air Force and still has the institutional knowledge and skills, just not the materiel anymore. Saudi Arabia has a collection of aircraft that it relies entirely on foreign contractors to maintain, flown by amateurish, untested pilots.

    The Saudi ground forces are a joke as well. The officer corps is arrogant, ignorant, lazy, and undisciplined, the soldiers soft and unmotivated. Parade ground army at its finest. Turks, Israelis, Pakistanis, and Iranians would all make mincemeat of it in actual combat.

    Singapore higher than Vietnam, North Korea, and Egypt? LOL!

    Singapore spends a ton of money on its troops, has the best equipment, they’re highly disciplined, etc. Match one brigade of Singaporeans up against one brigade from any of these countries, or one naval squadron against another, and I have every confidence the Singaporeans would thrash them.

    I would have grave doubts about the one brigade from Singapore defeating ten brigades from any of the above. Singapore’s air force and navy would also have only a handful of ports and airfields in close proximity to one another to operate from, targets that even a low-tech enemy with no air superiority could still bombard with ballistic missiles or raid with special forces.

    Mexico higher than South Africa or Sweden? LOL!

    These countries have military-industrial complexes. South Africa makes a full range of armored fighting vehicles and artillery. Sweden builds cutting-edge fighters and naval vessels. Mexico makes small arms, jeeps, and coast guard boats. Mexican military has never had the professionalism of either, the combat experience of the South Africans, or the experience of planning for defense against Soviet Russia like Sweden.

    Ukraine above Taiwan, Pakistan, and Australia? LOL!

    Ukraine’s mechanized forces are woeful to a degree that would make even Saddam cringe. Ukrainian logistics are a joke on par with Nigeria’s. They have a ton of leftover Soviet equipment, they have leftover Soviet military industry, yet both have been so neglected and underfunded that the whole structure is rotten. Awful leadership from the high command on down to the units in the field, morale is terrible, nothing works as it’s supposed to.

    Azerbaijan above South Africa? LOL!

    Portugal above Syria? LOL!

    Uzbekistan above Finland? Gonna guess LOL!

    Eritrea ten places above Ethiopia? LOL!

    The Eritreans are tough bastards and fielded strong infantry against them, but the Ethiopian infantry are pretty tough themselves. Ethiopia has a population dozens of times larger and could just pummel them into submission with human wave attacks, they also have more tanks, artillery, and aircraft. Ethiopia should be ahead with a slight edge.

    Libya above Ethiopia? LOL!

    Libyan armed forces were a joke even when Gaddafi was running the show and Libya was a coherent state with a big stockpile of Soviet arms. They lost a war to Chad, got a whole expeditionary force with tanks, armored vehicles, and air support destroyed, actually destroyed in pitched battle, by Chadian irregulars with pickup truck technicals.

    Ethiopia on the other hand has been fielding 100,000-strong armies with guns since the days of Adowa. Ethiopians are fighters, Libyans are runners. Simple as that. Now that Gaddafi’s gone, the whole state has imploded, the arsenal’s been dispersed among the clans and half the continent, and Ethiopia could roll through and occupy the whole place were it geographically situated to. They’ve occupied Eritrea and Somalia in the past and those people are way tougher and better guerrillas than Libyans.

    Lithuania ahead of Ethiopia? LOL!!!

    Let’s see how long Lithuania’s toy army would last on deployment to Somalia.

    Cuba at #122 behind the likes of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Botswana, Cameroon, Zambia, and Congo? LOL!!!!!

    Sure, the funding’s dried up since the Soviet Union broke apart, the equipment has fallen apart, the conscription’s been scaled way back. But this is a military that received half a century of Russian training and advising and had decades of experience in expeditionary deployments in Africa and the Middle East.

    You’re comparing that against the likes of what? The first half of those are toy militaries, the second are militias in uniform, only good for harassing the citizens and useless against any serious and armed oppposition.

    Cuba should be about thirty spots higher.

    Clearly, you need to put a lot more thought into how you’re calculating for the institutional and cultural factors, it’s great that you’ve attempted to include them since no one else does, but the means by which you’ve attempted to account for them are totally inadequate and in some cases just bizarre.

    What relevance does the experience of Genghis Khan have to the modern Mongolian army? If you’re giving them a bonus for that, might as well give the Italians one for the Roman army then too, and the Dutch for their Golden Age navy, and the Spanish for the tercio and the Armada. Scrap that as well as the bonus you gave to the Germans. The Wehrmacht is gone. NATO and the Soviets drilled the Germans into their own schools of warfare.

    If you want to start using this metric for all these other projects, stop and take the thing a little more seriously. Address these problems first. Your assessment still puts way too much weight on equipment and spending and not enough on the institutional factors and quality of manpower – hence why you’ve overrated powers like Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Libya and underrated others like Cuba, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and South Africa.

  16. Vendetta says


    As to how I’d go about creating a chart like this, I really think military power needs to be separated into two different ratings – one for national defense and one for power projection.

    A national defense chart would be an indicator for how well the country could resist a foreign invasion. As a standard metric, you could ask how well it could withstand a full-scale invasion by American armed forces since they are the world’s most powerful for overseas invasions.

    Russia, China, and India would obviously top the list. And it would likely see Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Brazil, and North Korea ending up higher on the chart than Great Britain, France, and Germany, with their well-equipped but undersized defense forces.

    The European military powers would fare much better on the power projection rankings, on the other hand, and America would have an overwhelming advantage over China and Russia here that it would not have on the national defense chart. A power projection chart ought to measure more than just number of amphibious warships and transport aircraft, however.

    The Iranian Qods Force, for example, is a tool of power projection that gives Iran an asset many other nations in its weight class do not have. So too is a military-industrial complex like that of Sweden, Israel, Iran, or North Korea, or a stockpile of surplus weaponry like Ukraine or Libya once had, which offers the potential to influence a conflict that that country could never otherwise get its forces into. And so is the ability of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or even Qatar to plague their foes with jihadis.

  17. I don’t think I’ve noticed any particular hype, so looking beyond it isn’t a problem for me.

    Ever increasing computer capacity in ever smaller hardware, together with ever greater amounts spent on artificial intelligence software, suggests to me that a computer system competent to operate a military drone independently is pretty much inevitable at some point in the next decade or three, unless you have some sort of faith-based refusal to admit even the possibility. Of course, it’s also possible it could turn out to be just too difficult engineering-wise, like fusion power generation so far, and be put back decade after decade, but I see no reason to assume that, either.

  18. Hardware capabilities are no longer ever increasing, and no matter how much you spend on the impossible you don’t get what you pay for.

  19. Why impossible? Seems a bit sweeping.

  20. I’m shocked Moshe that you Israeli hackers value my opinion so much….

    Armenian are native Christians and not European Jews living on Muslim-Christian Palestinian land since 1948.

    Armenian communities live in Iran, Syria, and Egypt – and all hate the Zionist entity.

    Islamic Iran happens to be an ally of Armenia over its disputed territory.

    Brussels-based Israel advocacy group ‘European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center (ESISC)’ in a report has warned the western nations that the Iran-Armenia closer relation not only poses a great threat to US-Israel regional ally Azerbaijan but such close cooperation was destined to dilute impact of western (US-EU-UN) sanctions against Iran.

    The report says that Iran-Armenia alliance helps Armenia to prolong its occupation of Azerbaijan’s Christian-majority enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh republic, by refusing to withdraw its troops despite four UN resolution. Wow! Four resolutions! What about over two dozen UN resolutions calling upon Israel to withdraw its forces from West Bank and East Jerusalem which it occupied in 1967?

    Shalom – Bet to meet soon.

  21. Thanks to all who responded to my query above. I am not at all knowledgeable about Caucasian history and politics, so it’s good to get some new perspectives on them. Western MSM only tells you what they want you to know.

  22. Cicerone says

    I am wondering whether all these military comparisons between Azerbaijan and Armenia take the vastly different human capital between these two peoples into account. There are several theories of course whether brains or machinery triumph, but Armenians (IQ of 93 in PISA) have considerably more brains than Azerbaijanis (83) which could neutralize the petrodollar bought equipment of Azerbaijan.

  23. The commenter jimmyriddle posted this graph on another thread here:

    It shows the number of scientists per 100k population of the various ethnicities of the Soviet Union in 1973. I commented on that graph here:

    Armenians were second. Azeris were 12th with a little more than half of the Armenians’ per capita rate. The whole graph is fascinating.

  24. Anatoly Karlin says


    As the other commentators have argued above, relations are highly positive.

    One as of yet unmentioned and little known, but quite important, factor: Armenia is Iran’s second window on the world.

    The first is of course the great artery that is Persian Gulf. But the narrow Armenian connection gives Iran access to Georgia and the port of Batumi, and from there on, to Russia and the Danube. Endless trucks stream from Tehran to Yerevan in the first 8 hour shift, and then its just another 8 hour shift to Batumi. On the negative side, this route is mountainous, gets closed for weeks at a time during the winter snows, and the total volume of trade it hosts pales besides that of the Persian Gulf. Nonetheless, should a conflict shut down the Persian Gulf, Iran will be exceedingly happy to have this additional trade route. This feeling is shared by Armenia, because it doesn’t want to be overly reliant on Georgia for bulk trade. The Iranians have constructed a gas pipeline to Yerevan, and wanted to extend it further north into Georgia so as to directly link into the European market, but Russia successfully lobbied Armenia against that. Discussions have been ongoing for years to start construction on a proper railway, though unfortunately they remain just that – discussions.

    Iran has adequate relations with Azerbaijan. Although Azerbaijan is of course Shi’ite, it is also secular and has a decidedly pro-Western and Israeliophilic geopolitical orientatation. There is also the separatist issue. But that hasn’t stopped Iran and Azerbaijan from working together to make money. There is in fact a good chance they will link up their railway systems faster than Iran with Armenia.

    Iran absolutely does not want a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and most especially it does not want an Azeri invasion of Armenia proper. This will threaten to cut off its northern trade corridor and weaken one of its very few regional friends at the expense of a coreligionist but non-geopolitically aligned country.

  25. Anatoly Karlin says

    Indications are that the Armenians did quite well – if the Azerbaijanis had done well the front would have collapsed and Aliev wouldn’t be retreating to diplomatic measures. Another case where the prediction of the ‘comprehensive military power index’ was dramatically reversed. The Yemeni war is an example of a far more dramatic reversal. A better predictor of future performance is past performance. Expect losers to keep losing, expect winners to keep winning.

    This was clearly a limited attack, to:

    (1) Probe Armenian defences;
    (2) Lay the groundwork for a diplomatic offensive;
    (3) Both
    (4) Local commander acting on his own initiative – though this is the least likely variant;

    So that clash proves absolutely nothing.

    Ultimately, the CMP is just a way of visualizing military strength in a somewhat objective manner. But its absolutely clear that even without it the military gap between Armenia and Azerbaijan has widened greatly since 1994.

    When it went up against equally smart and equally organized enemies who had much less military capital but had the basics, it lost (Korea, Vietnam.)

    No, it didn’t. The US achieved its objectives in Korea, and in Vietnam its defeat was not military but political. As I explicitly mentioned in the original post, the CMP model breaks down in conditions of asymmetric warfare.

    @ Vendetta,

    I will address your criticisms eventually.

  26. Anatoly Karlin says

    This is certainly one of Armenia’s likely advantages.

    I assume that the NK War 2 scenario has been wargamed to death by both sides. I suspect both the Armenians and Azeris already know the optimal or close to optimal moves in all the likeliest scenarios, so at least at the outstart, I doubt there’ll be much room for individual brilliance in generalship. But this factor will scale up as the war goes on and goes off along unforeseen tangents, and the Armenians will at a minimum also enjoy the intellectual resources of the Russian General Staff.

  27. Pseudonymic Handle says

    Iran is friendly with Armenia, Turkey is very friendly with turkish speaking Azerbaijan.
    Azerbaijan has some claims to iranian territory, while Armenia and Turkey have poor relations over the acknowledgment of the armenian genocide.
    The big Azeri military budget didn’t only buy weapons, but it also created friends among their providers of weapons and trainers: Turkey, Russia and Israel.

  28. The CMPI is a crock, and Vendetta does an excellent job of showing (some of the reasons) why.

  29. ilkarnal says

    (1) Probe Armenian defences;

    They left a whole lot of Azeri corpses on land they probably meant to hold.

    (2) Lay the groundwork for a diplomatic offensive;

    But this does the opposite of that, it reduces sympathy for the Azeris because they started it. And it forces Armenian leadership into hard-line positions, with Sargsyan recently threatening to officially recognize NK.

    So that clash proves absolutely nothing.

    It certainly does not ‘prove’ anything on its own – it certainly is very important information. Results in battle must be weighed very heavily.

    The US achieved its objectives in Korea

    They didn’t stop at the present North Korean border – they sure were acting like they meant to take the Korean peninsula! I think they were fairly surprised and dismayed by the result.

    in Vietnam its defeat was not military but political

    War is unfettered politics. The opposing sides are always political actors with limited authority. The conditions under which the North Vietnamese authorities had to develop and use that authority were considerably more trying than those in Washington. Consider that the war was started by one of the main political parties and continued by the other. Consider how long the war lasted – how long the US armed forces and their successive CICs had to achieve victory, or at least ensure a limited foothold. Consider the resources devoted to that war, and the losses sustained – over 5,000 aircraft destroyed, over 50,000 troops killed. The political excuse holds no water. The Communists faced a determined enemy willing to withstand large losses in blood and treasure, and willing to keep up the fight for many years, and they won.

  30. the CMP model breaks down in conditions of asymmetric warfare.

    Most of modern warfare is asymmetric: be it a salvo of anti-shipping missiles against Carrier Battle Group (10-15 million of hardware against 10-15 billion) or air-defense missile with the cost of about 100,00 taking out 150 million dollar stealth fighter-bomber. Even combined arms warfare seeks to achieve asymmetry by maneuver, speed and tactical ability. Blitzkrieg was, basically, a doctrine of asymmetry by the virtue of massing and applying overwhelming force on narrow front.

  31. The Aliyevs have promoted an extreme nationalist mythology that would be hilarious if it weren’t dangerous for the region, due to inculcating hate of Iran and Armenia. Antagonism with neighbors is an easy way for them to distract from the corruption and now the collapse brought by low oil prices. It will be interesting to see how the US reacts: Azerbaijan’s major ally in the region is none other than Israel.

  32. So I guess Azerbaijan can be considered a Caucasian Saudi Arabia in terms of military spending vs actual capability?

  33. Not quite. The older officer corps which graduated both BVOKU and KVVMKU and fought in Afghanistan and also graduated service War Colleges in Russia are pretty competent people. The new generation, however, prepared by Turkey to so called “NATO standards” is a completely different game.

  34. Based on what i’ve heard about Azeris from other CIS, the “people” part is kind of dubious.

  35. As I said–varies. The older, Soviet-educated and brought up, generation of Azeri military professionals was pretty good. The quality of personnel dropped precipitously after the dissolution of the USSR. I assume that currently it is not very high overall but it is too early to discount a serious quantitative-qualitative technological advantage Azerbaijan has over Armenians in Karabakh. Next couple of days will give more accurate picture.

  36. Yeah, i meant more of Azeris as a people though, they apparently have a really bad reputation in the former USSR.

  37. Most people from Caucasus had bad reputation in USSR.

  38. Yeah, they’re a big part of the organized crime that is often lumped together as the “Russian Mafia,” not that the governments there are much (or any) better than the mafias.

  39. Situation as of April 4, 2016.

    ARMENIAN losses:

    20 KIA, including 6 officers.
    72 WIA, including 8 officers.
    26 MIA.
    4 civilians killed, including one child of 12.
    7 tanks lost.

    AZERBAIJANI losses.

    23 KIA, including 8 officers, with names of killed confirmed and published by NKR military.
    100+ Azerbaijani troops estimated KIA, but names not ascertained.
    A KIA ratio of about 3-to-1 in Armenians’ favour.
    Unofficial sources estimate about 300 Azerbaijani troops KIA.

    Note: during the NKR war 1991-1994 Armenians had about 6,000 KIA vs Azerbaijani and assorted Islamist terrorists, Afghan Muj, Chechen terrorists, etc of about 30,000.
    A KIA ratio of about 5-to-1 in Armenians’ favour.

    29 tanks lost.
    1 Grad.
    1 TOS-1A ( multiple rocket launcher and thermobaric weapon)
    2 combat helicopters
    6 drones.

    Heavy fighting is ongoing in several sectors.
    Some Armenian strongpoints were initially overrun by Azerbaijani blitz, but were later re-taken by Armenians.
    In some uninhabited boondocks sectors, Azerbaijanis have penetrated 200-250 meters (700-900 feet) into Armenian positions behind the Line of Contact: fighting is ongoing there.
    1,000s of Armenian volunteers from everywhere, many veterans of 1991-1994 war, are streaming into NKR. Too many, in fact. NKR military has thanked them, but told them to stand by, until they are needed.

    NKR Armenian frontline troops engaged in fierce combat report that after the first day of enthusiastic fighting by Azerbaijani troops, as a result of heavy losses, they are not so eager to fight past couple of days. Punishment units are forcing reluctant Azerbaijani troops to advance.

  40. Anatoly Karlin says

    No that’s seriously overstretching it.

    Turks >> Arabs > Saudi Arabs in military matters.

  41. Anatoly Karlin says

    The Azeri offensive shows no signs of stopping.

    Azerbaijan is making maximilist demands (get off “occupied” land). Armenia is countering with a return to the old borders, but Azerbaijan will find that difficult to justify considering the losses it has sustained. This is increasingly looking like the buildup to a huge conflagration.

  42. What will the US do? Israel and Turkey are friendly with Azerbaijan. Armenian-Americans are a small, fairly influential group, but the Israeli/Saudi lobbies who are bent on confrontation with Armenia’s partner Iran are surely more powerful.

  43. I will confess that my only knowledge of Armenians is the Kardashians, I also must say that I have zero understanding of the conflict of those two nations. Having said that, surely this conflict could not have started without US approval ? Also I do not see news about this on sites like or, why is this not a big story ?

  44. Do they mean all of Karabakh or the buffer zone around it that the Armenians control but is undoubtedly Azerbijian, Agdam etc.? If it’s the latter that they want, it’s not that maximal, if it’s the former then this really could be s**t hitting the fan.

    Unless it stops quickly, this could easily result in Syria like savegary; the level of hatred is unbelievable, much worse than Ukraine. I know a few people from that area, on both sides, and my Facebook feed has been literally full of pictures of dead bodies with gloating captions.

    Russia is in a very difficult position. If Armenia losses Karabakh and a large number of the population get massacred, it’ll be as anti Russian as the Baltic States, if it intervenes, then Azerbaijan will be. Best case scenario is that they repel it on their own, of course

  45. Can you describe this mythology? I’m curious about stuff like that. Does it include an ancient Azerbaijan? It’s my impression that before the 20th century they were called Turks. What do they say about Armenians officially?

    One thing I’ve noticed is that the Alievs are doing the monarchy thing right. Geydar married an academic and a daughter of an important official. Ilham married a daughter and granddaughter of prominent writers and academics. That’s impressive.

  46. I have to say though, the Azeris are dirty fighters.

    I thought them executing two elderly Armenians in their homes and cutting their ears off was bad, but now they have beheaded a Yazidi-Armenian soldier they captured:

    I am surprised none of this is international news.

  47. {If Armenia losses Karabakh and a large number of the population get massacred…}

    Armenians are not going to lose Karabagh.
    And no large or small numbers of the population are going to get massacred.
    In every Armenian’s mind is burnt the image of Armenian civilians being marched to their deaths by Turks during the Armenian Genocide.
    Ain’t gonna happen again.
    Everyone in Artsakh/NKR is armed: it’s a modern day Sparta.
    There may be bloodbath, with 1,000 of nomad invaders killed by people of Artsakh, but there will be no massacre of unarmed Armenian civilians.

    Right now, NKR’s only own military is fighting Azerbaijani military.
    Azerbaijanis have sustained large losses, but have only penetrated Armenian positions in a few places maximum 900 feet. Fighting is going on over those places.
    Armenia’s own military is not involved at this time, other than sending some ballistic missiles to NKR (just in case). Azerbaijanis by themselves cannot overcome NKR military.
    Armenia will come in, in full force, if Azerbaijan starts mobilizing for full war.
    In a full scale war, Armenia and NKR will definitely suffer badly, but everything in Azerbaijan – pipelines, oil derricks, skyscrapers, refineries, … – will be torched. Nothing will be left standing.

    Only way for Azerbaijan to break through would be for Turkey to attack Armenia.
    Russia cannot and will not allow that.
    Some people think Turkey initiated this to divert Russia’s attention from Syria, where Turks’ plans have turned to s___ after Russian AF started raining death and destruction on Erdogan’s oil-stealing convoys.

    During the NKR war of 1991-1994, Armenians were in a far worse position manpower and military hardware wise, and they eventually prevailed. Heydar Aliyev begged Moscow in 1994 to stop the Armenians’ advance towards Baku, which Moscow did.

    We have to wait and see.

  48. {The Azeri offensive shows no signs of stopping.}

    From the link: (Google translate)

    { After initial successes, the morning of April 2 the promotion of Azerbaijani Army was stopped in all areas of the occupied territory and Azerbaijanis was abandoned. In fact her there were only a few tactically important heights that provokes continuation of hostilities, as the Armenians are now pytayustya their return. The fighting took positional, where the main role is played by artillery and MLRS (there are reports that Azerbaijan applied system TOS-1), which leads to losses on both sides.}

    “the promotion of Azerbaijani Army was stopped in all areas of the occupied territory”.

    According to your source, the Azerbaijani offensive has hit a brick wall: in effect stopped.

    btw, Karlin: who is this Colonel Cassad? Is he a Turk?
    What “occupied” territories is he talking about?

  49. Colonel Cassad is a nickname of Boris Rozhin, a Russian (and pro-Russian) blogger from Sevastopol. Never trust Google Transalte. The original has “занятой территории”, a much more neutral phrase than “occupied territory.” The correct translation would be something like “the territory held by”.

  50. Thanks for the clarification Glossy.

    My Russian has become rusty over the years of non-use living in US.
    (was born in Armenia SSR: knowledge of Russian was mandatory, the official language of USSR).

  51. The Communists faced a determined enemy willing to withstand large losses in blood and treasure, and willing to keep up the fight for many years, and they won.

    They only won after Congress cut off aid to South Vietnam (arguably the worst betrayal of an ally in US history). A good case can be made that if the Watergate break-in had not happened, South Vietnam would still exist today.

  52. in Vietnam its defeat was not military but political

    If you fail to achieve your political objectives by the use of your military, how is that not a failure of the use of the military?

  53. They claim to be descendants from a certain nomadic tribe and attribute historical Armenian presence in the region to Albanians (an ancient Caucasian people)

  54. If Armenians are so smart then how come Armenia was relatively poor even before the problems post-independence? Perhaps hard to judge now as there’s an economic blockade on two sides of their border (Turkey and Azerbaijan), and they had a huge war in the 90s. But even before this Armenia was pretty poor.

    IQ tests don’t show Armenians to be a particularly high IQ population.

    I find the situation of Armenians very puzzling though. They were the main market dominant community in the Middle East for centuries, with mercantile communities being established from Singapore to Amsterdam. For centuries people used to comment on how smart and entrepreneurial Armenians were. Today they do not seem to stand out in any way. There are large Armenian communities in Iran and Arab countries where they seem to do a bit better than average, but again nothing remarkable. Even in the United States I don’t think the Armenian population are any different from ordinary white people (in economic terms).

    Perhaps Armenians went through dysgenics?