More than seven months have passed since the 44 days of intense fighting in Karabakh, its total body count is yet to be made public. So far, the Armenian defense ministry has published more than 3,000 names of military personnel killed in the fighting. More than 400 names have been made public by other sources, particularly the Soldiers’ Insurance Fund and Yerkir Media TV. Thus, about 3,400 names of the dead have been released.
At the same time, according to the Armenian Health Ministry, a total of 3,723 human remains, including fragmentary remains, have been examined from the war. Of these, nearly 3,500 have been identified and the rest remain in the DNA testing and matching process. According to official data, 275 servicemen remain missing. Search operations for the remains of the missing continue, with more than 20 sets of remains discovered in just the recent weeks.
Based on the analysis of records of about half of all servicemen killed in the war, the Armenian forces suffered their heaviest casualties between October 9 and 15. Deaths or serious injury resulting in death of least 600 servicemen occurred during that week. Adjusted for the total known body count, more than 1,000 Armenians likely died during those seven days.
Of those seven bloody days, October 10 was the deadliest, with at least 126 deaths confirmed and by extrapolation for total known death toll, possibly more than 200 were killed that day.
What happened on October 10?
After nine hours of overnight talks in Moscow, Armenia and Azerbaijan declared a “humanitarian cease-fire” to begin from noon on October 10. And, in fact, there was a respite in the shelling of Stepanakert and Shushi. But judging by the death toll, fighting only intensified in the south of Karabakh.
According to an Armenian foreign ministry document leaked this week, in their December 9 conversation Russia’s Vladimir Putin told Germany’s Angela Merkel that he was “surprised” that Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan did not agree to the Russian-mediated terms of the cease-fire that were discussed by the two countries’ foreign ministers in the overnight talks in Moscow on October 9-10.
While the leaked document does not specify this, Azerbaijan – backed militarily by Turkey – insisted that as a condition for the cease-fire, Armenia had to agree to a timetable to withdraw from former Azerbaijani districts to the south and east of Karabakh’s Soviet-era administrative line, along the lines of what in recent years was dubbed the “Lavrov Plan” and previously considered, but rejected by Serzh Sargsyan in the aftermath of April 2016 fighting.
Presumably, Pashinyan found terms to be politically unacceptable for him. But four weeks later, as situation on the ground turned from grave to catastrophic, Pashinyan agreed to the cease-fire on terms that were much worse than the original “Lavrov Plan.”
In the morning of October 10, the Armenian military reported that “the Azerbaijani forces launched a ground attack on Hadrut in southern Karabakh and UAV attacks on Kapan area in southern Armenia.” As it soon emerged, the attacks in Kapan area were against the S-300 air defense battery that was attacked by drones, killing at least three servicemen.
Later in the day, the Turkish defense ministry reported the capture of “34 settlements” in the south of Karabakh, most of them in ruins since the early 1990s and only marked on maps.
Panic in Hadrut
That same day, Azerbaijani forces moving via Jebrail entered the town of Hadrut from its northern outskirts and killed at least five civilians who stayed on after general evacuation the previous day. Later in the day, the Armenian military claimed to have “surrounded” Azerbaijani forces in the town. But fighting continued and days later Armenian forces remaining in Hadrut area themselves ended up pinned down under fire.
Veteran Karabakh activist Gagik Avanesyan told CivilNet’s Tatul Hakobyan, that in the morning of October 10, just north of Hadrut, he saw army reservists – called up in Armenia since the start of the war days earlier – fleeing in panic. Artsakh president Arayik Harutyunyan was trying, unsuccessfully, to turn them back. According to Avanesyan, on that day there were only 50 to 70 Azerbaijani forces inside Hadrut, but more than 500 reservists and regular army soldiers were unable to organize to confront them.
This account was also confirmed by David Sanasaryan, who went to Hadrut as a volunteer, and said that initially Azerbaijani forces were outnumbered ten to one. But the Armenian army units were in disarray, and local Hadrut officials and several retired army officers tried, but were unable to organize them. There are reports suggesting that there were cases of friendly fire, when active duty soldiers may have mistaken fleeing reservists for advancing enemy forces.
Most of the troops in Hadrut that day were from the 9th regiment’s training battalion composed of newly drafted recruits with little experience, who just retreated from their base in Jebrail. An element from Armenia’s special forces brigade were also in the area, and one of its commanders – Maj. Harutyun Manucharyan – was killed in combat in the Tsor area, just south of Hadrut. Also killed in Hadrut were three servicemen from the peacekeeping brigade.
Also killed on October 10 was Hadrut-based division’s deputy commander Col. Hrair Davtyan and senior reconnaissance officer Maj. Hrant Frangyan. Davtyan was a 30-year year military veteran and continued serving even after losing his leg in a mine explosion. Davtyan was in charge of division’s headquarters, his death suggests it was overrun that day. (The Hadrut division comprised 4 regiments – 9th, 1st, 2nd and 3rd – that held the southern half of Karabakh’s defense line.)
The single deadliest incident may have occurred when a truck with some 20 Yerkrapah volunteers, most of them from Kotayk, was targeted by a drone and rolled off a mountainous road.
Fighting in Jebrail
More killing was happening further south, in the Jebrail district. There, after the Turkish-Azerbaijani breakthrough along the Araxes river on October 5-6 and failed Armenian counterattacks on October 7-8, many Armenian soldiers in frontline positions were now cut off no longer able to resist ground attacks by Azerbaijani forces and Turkish-Syrian paramilitaries.
Following the end of fighting, the biggest number of the remains of Armenian soldiers killed were recovered in Jebrail. Particularly heavy were casualties among artillery units that – following the suppression of Armenian air defenses – were being picked out by the Turkish drone fleet.
Dozens of the Armenian servicemen killed that day were from the Defense Army’s 9th regiment based in Jebrail and adjacent 1st regiment (Hadrut). Of the other personnel identified 17 were from the 4th Corps, 6 from the 1st Corps, 4 from the 4th regiment (Askeran) and 2 from the 3rd Corps units that were sent to reinforce the 9th and the 1st regiments.
Judging by the other fatalities, there was only sporadic fighting outside the southern front on October 10. Of the 126 servicemen identified as killed that day, 8 are known to have been killed in Mardakert/Madagis area fighting, 4 – in Karvajar (Kelbajar) and 2 at Yeghnik positions located in between.