Armenian soldiers with anti-tank missile system in the south of Karabakh on Sept. 28, 2020. Hetq TV video image grab.

The Armenian and Artsakh governments have granted formal hero titles to a total of twenty individuals for their actions between September 27 and November 10, during the Second Artsakh War. Five awards were for the National Hero of Armenia and fifteen for the Hero of Artsakh. Most of the awards were announced during the fighting and reflected both the accomplishments on the ground and efforts to boost morale. The logic behind a couple of the awards has been questioned.

Notably, just four individuals were recognized as National Heroes of Armenia for their actions in the First Karabakh War of 1991-94. They included Tatul Krpeyan, Jivan Abrahamyan, Yura Poghosyan and Monte Melkonian, all of whom were killed in combat. All four were awarded in the run-up to the 1996 elections, reflecting political considerations of the time.

Heroes of Armenia

Five individuals given the National Hero of Armenia titles this time around are all officers in command positions. They included Col. Vahagn Asatryan, who commanded Armenia’s special forces brigade, which is credited with recapturing high-altitude posts in the Mrav mountains on October 2, 2020; Asatryan was killed in a drone strike in Hadrut district ten days later.

On October 20, hero titles were given to the first deputy chief of staff of the Armenian army Gen. Tiran Khachatryan and the 5th Army Corps commander Gen. Andranik Piloyan; Piloyan was appointed Armenia’s minister of emergency management after the war. The two were credited with organizing a “counteroffensive” in the south of Karabakh, though it is unclear what this counteroffensive accomplished, or even if it in fact took place.

On October 22, Col. Garegin Poghosyan, an artillery commander was also awarded the National Hero title, his unit was credited with stopping the opponent’s advancing military column. Poghosyan commanded artillery in the 538th regiment of Armenia’s 2nd Army Corps, which was involved in the Mrav counterattack.

Finally, Col. Tatul Ghazaryan, commander of the 246th regiment of the 3rd Army Corps, was awarded posthumously on January 21, 2020. Ghazaryan was killed in Artsakh on October 19, 2020, he is credited with valor in combat, though no specific accomplishment has been publicized.

Heroes of Artsakh

The fifteen individuals awarded with the Hero of Artsakh titles include three enlisted men, six officers and six volunteers or reservists. Of the fifteen, five were awarded posthumously and another two were killed in combat after being awarded.

All three enlisted men were awarded for their efforts to stop the opponent’s armor attacks in the first days of the war: two in Karabakh’s south  – Sgt. Yura Alaverdyan and Pvt. David Grigoryan – and one in the northeast – Sgt. Edgar Markosyan; Grigoryan was killed in combat on November 3, the other two servicemen have since completed their mandatory army service and were discharged.

The six officers include Col. Karen Jalavyan, commander of the Defense Army’s 7th regiment; Col. Sergey Shakaryan, the Southern Division’s deputy commander; Lt. Col. David Ghazaryan, battalion commander in the 9th regiment; Maj. Gen. Karen Shakaryan, the Northern Division commander; Lt. Col. Hunan Ayrumyan, commander of the 2nd regiment; and Lt. Gen. Jalal Harutyunyan, the Defense Army commander. Sergey Shakaryan and David Ghazaryan were killed in combat, and Ayrumyan and Harutyunyan were wounded.

The six volunteers and reservists awarded included Menua Hovannisyan, Aleksandr Harutyunyan, Armen Knyazyan, Suren Barseghyan, Ararat Melkumyan and Rustam Gasparyan. Except for Barseghyan and Melkumyan, the four others were killed in combat. Harutyunyan, Knyazyan and Gasparyan were killed in drone strikes in Hadrut district and Hovannisyan – in Madagis area fighting. A former army officer, Melkumyan is head of the Martuni district executive and organized its defense, particularly around his native Karmir Shuka; and Barseghyan was awarded for his unit’s role in Shushi area fighting.

Aside from a few questionable selections, the awards do reflect the fact that the most intense fighting of the war initially focused on the south of Karabakh, Madagis in the northeast and the Mrav mountain chain in the northwest of Karabakh. Following the Turkish-Azerbaijani breakthrough in the south, the focus of the fighting shifted towards Martuni and Shushi.

The awards to reservists and volunteers were made after many volunteer and reserve units fled their positions amid continued aerial attacks, suggesting an effort to boost morale. Finally, the award to Harutyunyan came after he was wounded in a drone strike on October 26, and communicated the government’s appreciation of his role, in spite of the grave military setbacks prior to and following his replacement.