Armenian army background is closely connected with Armenia’s statehood building, and it is impossible to imagine one without another. Both army and statehood building started in February 1988, when the struggle for Karabakh, statehood restoration, and national army formation began. Armenian army and statehood went a thorny way, which can be divided into three stages.
The first stage began in February 1988 and ended in May 1992. In that period, the security of Armenia’s and Nagorno Karabakh’s people became the key objective amid escalating tension between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
The second stage is between June 1992 and May 1994, when already the independent Republic of Armenia along with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, being in an unannounced but de-facto state of war against Azerbaijan, embarked on building a national army.
The third stage started in 1994 and continues now. This period can be called a stage of national army its sustainable development, its strength buildup and officers’ qualification enhancement. Besides, at this stage, the gap between army and community is increasingly being bridged. After the truce was signed, the country’s leadership and military authorities concentrated their efforts on building a regular army. Necessary units were created in Armenia.
Each of these stages is remarkable for its peculiarities, logic of development, circumstances and even psychology. It would be wrong to view one of them more or less complicated since they are incomparable with each other because of many aspects. Developments and resources are incomparable as well.
The period between 1988 and May 1992 is singled out for the nationwide spontaneous revival of patriotism. As a rule, when one says “army”, the first thing coming upon his mind is a soldier in uniform, military exercises, parade, an oath.
Looking through the above-mentioned period’s history, we’ll find no such things, but this does not play down this stage’s importance. This period’s “army” was an idea derived from Armenia’s policy and its efforts to fulfill key objectives – to restore independence and to support Nagorno-Karabakh people’s just demand. “Army” was Armenian community’s clear realization of the necessity of national armed forces as the only guarantee of own security. About 80 separately operating detachments constituted the then “army”. These groups members were volunteers who guided by the sense of patriotism and finding weapons from paramilitary establishments, anti-hail stations and schools’ military training rooms went to the hottest spots to fight against the foe. The foe, who had already committed Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad pogroms, does not scruple to use any means and launched a large-scale military campaign against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. The foe backed by communist regime acted with impunity. Communist authorities not only turned a blind eye to the outrages but also had an active part in them. Notorious “Koltso” operation came as the most convincing evidence of that. Armenians lived in Getashen and Martunashen villages were driven from their homes. After that, Armenians were displaced from a dozen villages in Hadrut and Berdadzor regions.
Armenian volunteers resisting the attacks united into groups spontaneously and acted without any centralized coordination. However, later, after the declaration of independence, they developed into Armenian national army units. Volunteers’ groups, later replaced with the regular army, have brilliantly fulfilled their objectives. A part of them – Movses Gorgisyan, Tatul Krpeyan, Jivan Abrahamyan and many others - perished in battles. Those who have survived joined the newly formed national army in 1992 and fought against the enemy along with it, and won our first military victory. Unfortunately, the very expensive cost was paid for the victory - many of them lost their lives in the fighting.
Armenia’s independence declaration in 1990 laid the legal and practical ground for forming a national army. In September 1990, Yerevan Special Regiment was formed. Five units were created in Ararat, Goris, Vardenis, Ijevan, and Meghri. In 1991, State Defense Committee was established on Armenian government order. BY that time, a similar committee had been already operating in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
The committee creation made it easier Armenia, Artsakh, and Shahumyan defense coordination and laid the necessary ground for instituting foreign ministry.
On December 5, 1991, Armenian president appointed Vazgen Sargsyan, the chairman of State Defense Committee and volunteers’ favorite commander, to the post of defense minister.
On January 28, 1992, the government made a landmark decision on Armenian Defense Ministry, which laid the legal ground for Armenian national army foundation. Interior Ministry’s militia commandant regiment, special regiment, civil defense regiment commissariat were handed over to the Defense Ministry. A little later, the Defense Ministry’s staff was formed with headquarters and units.
In May 1992, the ministry announced the first conscription to the national army. The Armenian army formation’s second stage started from that very call-up. The second stage’s objectives differed from those of the previous stage though were as complicated as they.
In 1992, the republic leadership headed by President Levon Ter-Petrosyan made a wise and forward-looking decision to take over Armenia’s part of the Soviet army on contractual base, not through seizure. This decision prevented the armament from getting to the hands of individuals or some groups. That is why the equipment was not so much, but it was in order, not dilapidated. Besides, thanks to the decision a part of Russian troops remained in Armenia gradually developing into a military base and later became an important component our national security.
Armenian army lived two lives in that period. The process of the army formation was underway. At the same time, the newly created army units were in a de-facto state of war against a neighbor. Along with pursuing all-for-frontline policy, the republic authorities keep their focus also on building institutions. In addition to armament, fuel, rations, and uniforms supply problems, the army also faced the problem of the lack of high-qualified junior, senior and chief officers. To ease that difficult situation the Defense Ministry launched a vigorous campaign aimed at including the officers who once served in the former Soviet army in Armenian armed forces. It is remarkable that numerous Armenian officers followed the ministry’s call leaving the quiet places where they resided. Gurgen Ghalibaltayan and Mikael Harutyunyan, who are now colonel generals; Norat Ter-Grigoryan, Hrach Andreasyan, Kristofor Ivanyan, Mkrtich Abrahamyan, Yuri Khachaturov and Mikael Grigoryan, lieutenant generals; Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, Artush Harutunyan, Muraz Sargsyan, Leonid Martirosov, Vladimir Hayrapetyan, Alik Sargsyan, Martin Karapetyan, Tigran Gasparyan, Alik Mirzabekyan, major generals, are among them. Lieutenant General Anatoly Zinevich, for whom Armenia became the second homeland, must be mentioned among them as well.
1992 was a fruitful year for Armenian army building:
the necessary legal ground was laid, administrative bodies such as general headquarters were created;
home front and disarmament services were established;
various types of troops and specialized units were created with their administrative bodies, the first call-up was conducted;
first border units were formed;
units were enlarged and developed.
At that very time, border clashes escalated into a full-scale war. After crashing Azerbaijani strongholds in Karabakh, Armenians launched a brilliant offensive, which resulted in Shushi liberation. The city liberation rode Stepanakert from constant bombardments and paved a way to Armenia. A few days later, Armenian troops took Lachin. Thanks to that, Armenia was no longer isolated from Nagorno Karabakh. The foe was booted out far. It seemed that the war would end soon. We took a breath, but that had heavy consequences later.
The second state began in June 1992, when Azerbaijanis seized armament of Soviet units deployed in their republic’s territory and launched a large-scale offensive along with mercenaries, Soviet army officers from the above-mentioned units. Azerbaijanis won a series of victories. Under their pressure, Armenians withdrew from Shahumyan, ceded a major part of Martakert region. Seizing the areas, the attackers also captured residents. Actually, this was a time of ordeals to Armenians. Many were disappointed with these defeats and lost hope. Some even distanced themselves from everything. Some political parties blamed each other for the defeats and accused of selling Armenian territories. The blight of doubt reached also the army.
At that period, Vazgen Manukyan, one of Armenian National Movement leaders, took up defense ministerial seat. He managed to ease domestic controversies, made some important decisions enlarged army funding.
In March 1993, Armenian armed forces launched Kelbajar operation, in which this important area that connects Armenia with Azerbaijan was liberated. In July, after a series of fierce battles, the foe retreated from Aghdam. Azerbaijanis withdrew from Fizuli, Jabrail, Kubatlu, and Zangelan between August and October. It enabled Armenians to form a security zone for shielding a major part of Nagorno Karabakh’s territory from hostile bombardments.
It seemed the defeats were enough to teach the lesson to the opposite side and make it realize complete bankruptcy of its ambitions. However, Azerbaijanis undertook another large-scale military campaign, which lasted five months and ended in Armenian forces’ sweeping victory. This victory forced the opposite side to change its tune and think over a truce.
On May 16, 1994, Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijani defense ministers signed a cease-fire agreement in Moscow. The agreement marked the second stage completion.
After reaching temporary peace, Armenian military focused their efforts on building the army and concentrated greater attention on its internal problems.
The process embraced all the spheres of the defense system from army structure to legislative matters.
One of the defense building’s key objectives was military specialists training. An aviation college was established for that purpose. Later, the college transformed into Military Aviation Institute. The ministry-affiliated institute was later named after Vazgen Sargsyan. Yerevan State Medical University’s faculty of military medicine trains 1300 military doctors every year for the republic’s armed forces.
1500 officers for Armenian army were trained abroad, particularly in Russia and Greece.
Taking into account that the bulk of Armenian officers are former volunteers, the ministry opened a center for upgrading officers’ qualification. Some 1500 officers have attended the center. To enhance the republic’s security and improve management coordination the ministry gathered some military entities in provinces into greater units.
Central command, departments, and services were set up as well as artillery, air defense and air forces accomplished. Intelligence, communication and engineering troops were formed.
The long year of efforts produced their results – officers’ qualification was upgraded, discipline in the army enhanced and environment improved. For example, 324 soldiers were killed in Armenian army in 1995, while in 2001 only 56. Although this number is high for such a small country as Armenia, the figures show an apparent reduction of deaths in the army.
Special efforts were made to keep troops on alert and to enhance their flexibility and dislocation ability. The third stage was saturated with military exercises.
Great importance is attached to education – trainees obtain theoretic knowledge. Special attention is paid to the ability to operate in difficult climatic conditions, in a bad weather and darkness.
Great significance is attached to the enhancement of commanders’ ability to analyze situations and make right and quick decisions gauging assumed effect.