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Nagorno Karabakh Republic's Defense Army
Լեռնային Ղարաբաղի Հանրապետության Պաշտպանության Բանակ
Army NKR.jpg
NKR Defence Army shoulder insignia
Service branches  ?
Headquarters Stepanakert
Commander-in-Chief President Bako Sahakyan
Minister of Defense Major General Movses Hakobyan
Military age 18
Conscription 3 years
Available for
military service
 ? males, age 15–49,
? females, age 15–49
Active personnel 18,500 - 25,000
Reserve personnel 20,000 - 30,000[1]
Budget  ?
Percent of GDP  ?
Related articles
History Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–1994)
Mardakert skirmishes (2008)

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defence Army (Armenian: Լեռնային Ղարաբաղի Հանրապետության Պաշտպանության Բանակ) is the formal defence force of the de-facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). Established in 1992, it united previously disorganized self-defence units which were formed in the early 1990s in order to protect the ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh from the attacks by the military of the Soviet and Azerbaijani forces.[2] The Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army is currently composed of around 20,000 well-trained and -equipped officers and soldiers and maintains a "constant state of readiness, undergoing more serious combat training and operational exercises than any other former Soviet army."[3]




Military tradition

Long before the establishment of the republic's formal defense force in 1992, Karabakh had produced its fair share of Soviet military strategists and heros. The prominence of Karabakh Armenians is seen in their participation of two of the toughest military challenges confronted by the Soviet Union: World-War II and the Soviet War in Afghanistan. Some of the most prominent names of Soviet military strategists originating from Karabakh Armenians include Field Marshal Hovhannes Bagramyan, Chief Marshal Hamazasp Babadzhanian, Marshall Sergei Khudyakov and Admiral Hovhannes Isakov. In addition, the region is the birthplace to several heroes of the Soviet Union, such as Nelson Stepanyan.

Yet, even long before the 20th century and the Soviet era, Karabakh Armenians (referred to in Armenian as Artsakhtsi) have carried a reputation of fierce and fearless warriors, who held prominent roles throughout Armenian history. Some of the names of prominent strategists from Karabakh during the Tzarist period include Valerian Madatov, Ivan Lazarev, Daniel Bek-Pirumyan and Yeprem Khan Davidian.

This long established military tradition and reputation is an important factor in understanding the combat capabilities and morale of NKR's small, but very potent, defense army.


T-72s of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army being prepared for the May 9, 2007 parade in Stepanakert.

The formal formation of the NKR Defense Army is rooted in the concept of the Tchokat or Jokat (volunteer detachment).[4] With the early outbreak of hostilities prior to 1992 Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh began forming small detachments of volunteers, who called themselves Fedayeen, inheriting the name of the fighters who actively resisted the Ottoman Empire in the final decades of the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth centuries.

At the outset these "tchokats" were small groups of no more than 12-40 men. For example, during Operation Ring, Shahumyan was defended by a force as small as 22 men under the command of Tatul Krpeyan. These volunteer militia would initially arm themselves with whatever was available, even hunting shotguns borrowed from local farmers and even home-made rifles. At later stages these units would arm themselves with AK-47s, RPGs and sometimes portable anti-aircraft MANPADs like Strela 2, which made them into a highly mobile and flexible force suitable for guerilla tactics. Initially, these units had no heavy military equipment, but later started taking over large quantities of Azerbaijani tanks and armored personnel carriers that they would leave on the battlefield. Most of these captured tanks and APCs later became part of the NKR Defense Army's equipment. Improvisation, multi-functionality, creativity, strong-morale, focus on defensive tactics, adaptation, flexibility, high-mobility and a native knowledge of the mountainous terrain are all important factors in understanding the combat success of these small units.

Each detachment would have their own (often differing) ideology, carry a unique flag and some would even have a unique uniform. They would often operate according to their own ethical code, rather than a set of standard conventions of a national military. For instance, members of Arabo and Kahkejian's Khachakirner detachments were required to take unique and very personal oaths. Such military ethics as "No Man Left Behind" or vis-a-vis treatment of Azerbaijani civilians were a major factor in up-keeping strong sense of justice and strong morale within the unit, as well as the popular support, as was, especially, the case with Monte Melkonian.

The initial purpose of these detachments, comprised of volunteers, was mainly to defend Armenian civilian population, each in particular village or town. Each of these tchokats was operating independently with no central command or leadership. Yet, these units would regularly collaborate in joint operations such as the battle of Khodjaly in February 1992 or the June 1992 surprise counter-offensives against Operation Goranboy. Yet, the increasing scale and intensity of Azeri attacks, the devastation caused by the bombardments emanating from Grad multiple rocket launchers in Shushi and the Lachin blockade from mainland Armenia had broadened the notion of 'security' beyond the mere defense of a small village. Capturing Shushi and Lachin as well as turning the tide of Operation Goranboy became not only a matter of security, but that of survival. For the successful conduct of such large-scale operations, the detachments had to be consolidated under a single command of a unified NKR Defense Army.


The Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army was founded on May 9, 1992. It created "its own central command and military structure distinct from the Armenian Army."[5] Its founders included Robert Kocharyan (the former president of Armenia, he was the first commander in chief of the Army);[6] Serzh Sargsyan (current president of Armenia); Vazgen Sargsyan (Armenia's Defence Minister 1992-93, State Minister in Charge of defence 1993-95, Armenia's Prime-Minister 1998-99);[6] Monte Melkonian (responsible for Martuni region);[4] Samvel Babayan (Nagorno Karabakh's Defence Minister from 1994 to 2000) and others.[6] Many of the men who served in its ranks and in the officer corps during the Nagorno-Karabakh War were seasoned veterans of the Soviet military and had fought with distinction in the Soviet War in Afghanistan.[3]


A 9K33 Osa anti-aircraft defence system.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army's equipment consists of infantry, tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft systems. The Karabakh army's heavy military hardware includes:

  • 316 tanks,
  • 324 armored vehicles,
  • 322 artillery pieces of calibers over 122mm,
  • 44 multiple rocket launchers, and
  • a new anti-aircraft defence system.[7]

Air Force

The Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army maintains a small air-force with a personnel of around 250 men.[1]

Aircraft Type Active Notes
Ground-Attack Aircraft
Sukhoi Su-25 Close air support aircraft 2[1]
Attack Helicopters
Mil Mi-24 Attack helicopter 5 During the military parade on 9 May 2007 5 Mi-24 helicopters were also on display as part of Nagorno-Karabakh's Air-Force.
Transport and Utility Helicopters
 ? medium transport helicopter 5 Advanced Research and Assessment Group of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom reports that NKR Army has 5 other helicopters.[1] These are most likely to be transport and utility helicopters like Mi-8


The Nagorno-Karabakh military is deeply integrated with the Armenian military, and the unrecognized NKR state depends on the Armenian Army to ensure its survival as an independent national entity. Armenia considers any act of aggression against Karabakh as an act of aggression against itself.[3]

Main battles participated in

See also

External links


  1. ^ a b c d Blandy, C. W. "Azerbaijan: Is War Over Nagornyy Karabakh a Realistic Option?" Advanced Research and Assessment Group. Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, Caucasus Series 08/17, 2008, p.16.
  2. ^ Important Facts about the NKR Defence Army (Nagorno Karabakh Army). Office of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Washington D.C. Accessed Novermber 27, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Giragosian, Richard. "Armenia and Karabakh: One Nation, Two States." AGBU Magazine. № 1, Vol. 19, May 2009, pp. 12-13.
  4. ^ a b Melkonian, Markar (2005). My Brother's Road, An American's Fateful Journey to Armenia. New York: I. B. Tauris. pp. passim. ISBN 1-85043-635-5.  
  5. ^ Dzelilovic, Vesna Bojicic. "From Humanitarianism to Reconstruction: Towards an Alternative Approach to Economic and Social Recovery from War" in Global Insecurity (Restructuring the Global Military Sector) , Vol. 3. Mary Kaldor and Basker Vashee (eds.) London: Pinter, 2000, p. 79.
  6. ^ a b c De Waal, Thomas (2003). Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. New York: New York University Press. pp. 196-197, 210. ISBN 0-8147-1945-7.  
  7. ^ DeRouen, Karl and Uk Heo (eds.) Civil Wars of the World: Major Conflicts since World War II. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2007, p. 151.


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