Musavat, an online Azerbaijani newspaper, recently carried a story alleging that Armenia was luring fighters from India to help it fight Azerbaijan. Such a cock-and-bull story could only have been inspired by Pakistan’s ISI.
Let us analyse what such stories intend to achieve and why they are being put out now. The article, (published on June 24) written by Elchin Khalidbayli, supposedly, a political expert with the “Yeni Musavat” Media Group, claims that Indians from poor provinces are being lured with money and sent to Armenia.
The report claims that Yerevan is creating armed mercenary groups with people brought to Armenia from various countries and India allegedly being one of those helping in the creation of armed mercenary groups.
The aim is to show that Armenia is supporting terrorist tactics against Azerbaijan and to allege that India is behind the supply of manpower.
There is no doubt that external actors are attempting to intervene in the processes in the South Caucasus, except that it is not India. Turkey and Pakistan are the players who have supported Azerbaijan. The only conclusion one can draw is that Pakistan is trying to prove that India is a “terrorist state” to try and wriggle out of the discomfort of having FATF and other international organisations brand them as global sponsors of terrorism.
India’s military supplies to Armenia obviously make a difference and the other side is feeling the pinch, which is why the article claims that “these interventions are being conducted unequivocally only through Armenia”.
Propoganda is the need of the hour and therefore, it is argued that the Armenian Army has lost its capability to fight and has formed small guerrilla units with mercenary troops. The logic used here is that Armenians don’t have the will to fight and are unwilling to be recruited into the Army. This of course does not mean that the Armenian Army is incapable of fighting. It is technically correct that the Armenian Parliament adopted a law creating a legal basis for conscription of women into active military service.
Military service in Armenia is compulsory for male citizens of the republic aged 18 to 27 for a period of two years. At present, women serve in the Armenian military only on a contract basis and accounted for 9.1 per cent of contract service members in 2019.
Armenia has undertaken to reform its military after the defeat in 2020 against Azerbaijan. An ambitious defence modernisation plan proposed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in 2021 has not taken off because of domestic political squabbles. The lack of progress can be attributed in part to the regular shakeups at the top of Armenia’s defence establishment. Since then, both the Minister of Defence and Chief of the General Staff have been replaced three times.
The most dramatic moment was in February 2021, when the top army brass, led by the then-Chief of the General Staff Onik Gasapryan, joined the Opposition’s demand for Pashinyan’s resignation. This conflict was resolved by the dismissal of Gasparyan. Pashinyan then resigned and called a snap election, which his party won.
Steps were taken to rebuild the army on the Russian model, though enthusiasm for this has since waned given Russia’s poor performance in Ukraine and Russia’s rejection of requests to help its military ally Armenia amid incursions by Azerbaijan in fall 2022. Russia had earlier been a regular supplier of arms and weapons to Armenia.
Prime Minister Pashinyan publicly complained (September 29, 2022) about Armenia’s failure to receive armaments from allies even after they were paid for. Though he did not name a specific state, it was clear he was referring to Russia, which is the largest supplier of weapons to the Armenian Army.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reports that 94 per cent of the weapons acquired by Armenia from 2015 to 2019 were produced in Russia.
As seen above, the Pashinyan government is trying to use the most diverse options to solve the problem of military modernisation. One of them is to import weapons and equipment from India.
Recently, the Indian Ambassador emphasised that her country was determined to provide all kinds of military and political support to Armenia. The Indian Ambassador also emphasised that Pakistan’s strategic alliance with Azerbaijan is dangerous for her country. Therefore, she claimed that India provides active military and political support to Armenia.
The facts as explained by the Ambassador is no open secret and is known to all.
It is important to understand what India has supplied to Armenia as part of the $249 million deal. This includes the indigenously manufactured Pinaka MLRS, Swathi radars and 155 truck mounted artillery guns.
One wonders then how France comes into the picture? That is precisely what Khalidbayli does and claims, without proof that India has transferred weapons “jointly produced with French military companies” to Armenia. While Khalidbayil can be excused for not having done proper research for his article, his obvious bias, being driven by Pakistan becomes clear with his absurd allegation that India has deployed mercenaries from India to Armenia, a process he claims has intensified recently.
The further allegation is made that India and Armenia have signed a secret agreement whereby Indian citizens from “poor provinces” are being lured with money to Armenia. There can be only one rational reason for such an absurd and unfounded allegation. Pakistan through its friend Azerbaijan wants to brand India as a sponsor of terrorism. Therefore, it is reported that Indian mercenaries are being trained in India, and then sent to Armenia.
Officially, there are only around 3,000 Indians in Armenia, settled mostly in the capital Yeravan. There have been no reports of Indian citizens undergoing military training in Armenia in accordance with the “local conditions” as claimed by Musavat. The only thing stated to support this allegation is that mercenaries sent from India are registered as “labour force” in Armenia. It is therefore, concluded that Armenia “is trying to hide mercenary terrorists brought from India under the name of labour force”.
How on earth is it possible to convince such writers that facts are facts, and one cannot obfuscate the issue by mixing them up. What else does one make of the assertion that Indians brought in “manpower” to take part in military exercises? Is the reference here to trainers? This is unlikely and it is more likely that “manpower” was made available to explain the functioning of Indian defence equipment to the Armenian military.
To stretch the argument to asset that Indians supposedly involved in construction, received military training to become terrorists is a fairy tale woven out of nowhere.
According to the article, Armenians don’t want to do military service and therefore, the government is training Indians to act as mercenaries.
Recently, it was reported that two Indian citizens were injured by gunfire in the border regions. The official Armenian statement, posted on the Telegram messenger app by the Defence Ministry (14 June) said that two Indian nationals were involved in construction work at a metallurgical plant in Yeraskh, which is close to the border with Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave.
Therefore, there is no question of Yerevan trying to cover up this information. On the contrary, the Armenian Prime Minister had earlier said that Pakistan had a role to play in the war raging across the Nagorno- Karabakh region.
In an exclusive conversation with an Indian news channel, he said: “We have information that armed fighters from Pakistan are participating in the war raging in the Karabakh region. We can see that Turkey is also involved in the war, mercenaries are being brought to the conflict zone by Ankara. It is a chaotic, confusing situation that we are seeing in Karabakh.”
Last year, Pashinyan had also claimed that Pakistani Special Forces had fought alongside the Azerbaijani Army in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, in an interview with Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya (October 15, 2022).
In October 2020, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had boasted of having sent troops to Nagarno-Karabakh to fight alongside the Turkish military and the Azerbaijan Army. Subsequent reports indicated that Pakistani terrorists had also flocked to Azerbaijan to fight against Armenia.
All these provide clear evidence of Pakistani and Turkish forces fighting alongside Azerbaijani forces.
Pakistan needs to do its homework well. For a country that has nurtured and developed terrorist entities for several decades now, their efforts to blame India for terrorism sound amateurish. That India is helping Armenia in bolstering its defence machinery has more to do with regional geo-politics and business sense.
After all, if Turkey can sell its UAVs to Azerbaijan, what stops India from selling its home made Rustom II drones to Armenia. This is the primary narrative emerging from the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
For Pakistan and Azerbaijan to make false claims about India deserves a riposte. The time and place will be that of India’s choosing.