Artsakh Defence Army
Արցախի Հանրապետության պաշտպանության բանակ
Founded9 May 1992
Commander-in-ChiefArayik Harutyunyan
Minister of Defence and Defence Forces CommanderLieutenant General Mikael Arzumanyan
Chief of StaffKamo Vardanyan
Military age18
Conscription24 months
Active personnel18,500–25,000
Reserve personnel20,000–30,000[1]
Related articles

The Artsakh Defence Army (Armenian: Արցախի Հանրապետության պաշտպանության բանակ, romanizedArtsakhi Hanrapetut’yan pashtpanut’yan banak) is the defence force of the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). Established in 1992, it united previously disorganized self-defence units which were formed in the early 1990s with the avowed goal of protecting the ethnic Armenian population of Artsakh from attacks by Soviet and Azerbaijani armed forces.[2]



See also: Military history of the Republic of Artsakh

The Artsakh Defence Army was founded on 9 May 1992. It created "its own central command and military structure distinct from the Armenian Army."[3] Its founders included Robert Kocharyan (the former President of Armenia, he was the first commander-in-chief of the Army);[4] Serzh Sargsyan (former Prime Minister and 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);[4] Monte Melkonian (responsible for Martuni Province);[5] Samvel Babayan (Nagorno-Karabakh's Defence Minister from 1994 to 2000) and others.[4] Many of the men who served in its ranks and in the officer corps during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War were seasoned veterans of the Soviet military and had fought in the Soviet–Afghan War.[6]

First Nagorno-Karabakh War

Main article: First Nagorno-Karabakh War

The formal formation of the NKR Defence Army was rooted in the concept of the Jokat (volunteer detachment).[5] With the early outbreak of hostilities prior to 1992, Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh began forming small detachments of volunteers, often self-described as 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 detachments 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, including hunting shotguns borrowed from local farmers and even home-made rifles. In the later stages of the war, these units armed themselves with AK-47s, RPGs and sometimes portable anti-aircraft MANPADs, transforming the defence force into a highly mobile and flexible force that was capable of waging guerrilla warfare. Likewise, these units initially had no heavy military equipment, but later started taking over large quantities of Azerbaijani tanks and armoured personnel carriers that were abandoned on the battlefield. Most of these captured tanks and APCs later became part of the NKR Defence Army's equipment. Improvization, 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.

The initial purpose of these detachments, made up of volunteers, was mainly to defend Armenian civilian population, each in a particular village or town. Each of them was operating independently with no central command or leadership. Yet, these units would regularly collaborate in joint operations such as the battle of Khojaly in February 1992 or the June 1992 surprise counter-offensives during Operation Goranboy. The increasing scale and intensity of Azerbaijani attacks, the devastation caused by Grad multiple rocket launchers firing from Shusha and the Lachin, the blockade from mainland Armenia had broadened the notion of security beyond the mere defence of a small village. Capturing Shusha and Lachin as well as turning the tide of Operation Goranboy became, for the Armenians, not only a matter of security, but that of survival.[7] For the successful conduct of such large-scale operations, the detachments had to be consolidated under a single, unified command.

Mient Jan Faber argues that "August 1992 marked the watershed between purely voluntary Armenian Karabakh forces reinforced by volunteers from Armenia and an organised NKR army with its own central command and a military structure distinct from the Armenian army."[8]

Post war

The Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army's primary role after the conclusion of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994 is the protection of the NKR from foreign and domestic threats. Though the war ended with the signing of a cease fire between Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan and the de facto independence of the NKR, the Azerbaijani leadership has repeatedly threatened to restart hostilities to retake the region.[9] Violations of the cease fire along the line of contact are frequent and often result in the deaths of several soldiers and civilians each year. One of the most significant breaches of the ceasefire occurred in Martakert on 8 March 2008, when up to sixteen soldiers were killed. Both sides accused the other of starting the battle.[10] In June 2010, new skirmishes broke out between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops along the line of contact, resulting in the deaths of four Armenian servicemen.[11] Clashes in summer 2014 resulted in the deaths of six Armenian and thirteen Azerbaijani servicemen. On 12 November 2014, a Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army Mi-24 attack helicopter participating in the week-long joint Armenian–NKR Unity 2014 military exercises was shot down by the Azerbaijani military, killing all three crew members. On 1 April 2016 war-like clashes began; according to several sources they were the worst since 1994. The Artsakh Defence Army suffered a defeat in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, fighting against the military of Azerbaijan.

Defense District

Central Defense District

NKR self-defense detachments were formed on 22 February 1988. At the end of 1991 and at the beginning of 1992, more than ten volunteer detachments and detachments were formed in Stepanakert and included more than a thousand freedom fighters. Motorized regiments were then formed on the basis of the following structure:

In September 1989, the Central Defense District (also known as the Stepanakert Defense District) was formed on the basis of those battalions.

Hardut Defense District

Its first battalion was formed on 16 July 1992.[12] The district was formed in September 1992, in accordance with the order of the Chairman of the Committee for Self-Defense of the Artsakh Republic in August 1992.

Martuni Defense District

It was formed in September 1991 by the order of the President on the basis of self-defense detachments and platoon operating in the region.

Shahumyan Defensive Region

The Yeghnikner ("The Deers") Detachment was founded on 11 March 1993 and is considered to be one of the most elite units of the army of the unrecognized republic. It originated from a partisan unit created by Shahen Meghryan, which was formed on 25 June 1992 from self-defense detachments of the district villages. Among its symbols were the coat of arms of the Meliks of Gulistan and its unit banner. The Shahumyan Defensive Region (SDR) was formed by the Chairman of the Self Defense Committee in March 1993, originally incorporating two battalions Between 1993 an 1994, SDR units participated in battles and operations in Martakert and Shahumyan.[13][14]

On 2 October 2021, President Arayik Harutyunyan conferred the title of Hero of Artsakh on the commander of the Yeghnikner unit Karen Jalavyan.[15] After the 2020 war, rumors on the Internet claimed that the unit had to leave its positions, which was denied by the commander.[16][17][18]

Askeran Defense District

Askeran Defense District was formed by the order of the NKR IPC President of August 14, 1992. There are 4 rifle battalions in the district:

Individual units

See also: Armenian volunteer units during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War

Shushi Independent Battalion

The Shushi Independent Battalion was formed on 1 September 1992, originally consisting of over 1,000 soldiers including many from the United States, Canada, Syria, France, Iran, Russia and Georgia.[19] A memorial to the fallen military personnel from the battalion was erected on the southern top of Mount Aragats in 2003. Most soldiers in the battalion were members of the ARF.

After the 2016 Nagorno-Karabakh clashes, the ARF helped the Ministry of Defense of Armenia in setting up a volunteer reserve battalion, tracing back its heritage from the Shushi independent battalion.[20]

Mataghis Military Unit

It was based in the Madagiz settlement of the Martakert Province. In May 2017, the commander and two deputies of the military unit were dismissed after 3 soldiers drowned after their UAZ-315195 vehicle fell into a reservoir.[21][22] Among its notable commanders was Mikael Arzumanyan, the current Commander of the Defense Army, serving as the commander of the unit at the age of 22.[23][24]

8th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade

It was formed on 14 October 1992 and is part of the Central Defense Region. It is named after "Commander Vazgen Sargsyan".[25][26]

Special Forces

The Special Forces of the Artsakh Defense Army was established in 2000. Based on the previous National Guard, it carries out both of planned and unplanned combat operations. Among its notable commanders were Samvel Harutyunyan. On 11 August 2010, a memorial fountain was unveiled in Aygestan community of Askeran region on August 10 in memory of the fallen soldiers of the Special Forces. The memorial was built with the financial means of the former and current servicemen of the detachment.[27] Their professional holiday is on 5 November.[28]

Engineer Battalion

The Defense Army has an engineering battalion that is involved in the clearance of minefields of strategic importance. It was formed on 1 February 1995.[29] Roles Aghajanyan was the first head of the Defence Army engineering services.[30]


See also: Military ranks of Armenia

The Artsakh Defence Army is currently composed of around 20,000 officers and soldiers and maintains a "constant state of readiness, undergoing more serious combat training and operational exercises than any other former Soviet army."[6] The Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army maintains a small air force with a personnel of around 250 men.[1] The Army is a conscript force, with there also being a growing number of professional officers.

Educational institutions


The Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army's equipment consists of infantry, tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft systems. The Karabakh army's heavy military hardware includes: 186[31][32] tanks, 68[31][32] armoured vehicles, 98[31][32] artillery pieces of calibres over 122mm, 44 multiple rocket launchers[31] (most likely BM-21 Grad), and a anti-aircraft defence system of an unspecified type[31] WM-80, Scud-B: at least 4 launchers.[citation needed]

As for infantry, most rely on the AK-74 rifle and older AKMs in reserve for standard-issue rifles. Other basic weapons consist of Makarov PM pistols, PK machine guns, and RPG-7 rocket launchers, all mostly supplied by Armenia. The Nagorno-Karabakh military is deeply integrated with the Armenian military, and the NKR 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.[6]

Ground Forces

Small arms

Name Origin Type Image Notes
Makarov[citation needed]  Soviet Union 9x18 mm
Assault rifles
AKM  Soviet Union 7.62x39mm
AK-74  Soviet Union 5.45×39mm
Standard rifle of Artsakh Defence Army.
AK-74M  Armenia
AKS-74U  Soviet Union 5.45×39mm
Sniper rifles
Dragunov SVD  Soviet Union 7.62×54 mm
Zastava M93 Black Arrow[33]  Serbia 12.7×108 mm
Machine guns
RPK-74  Soviet Union 5.45x39mm
PK machine gun[citation needed]  Soviet Union 7.62×54 mm
DSHK  Soviet Union 12.7×108 mm
NSV machine gun  Soviet Union 12.7×108 mm

Armored combat vehicles

Name Origin Type Number Image Notes
T-72B  Soviet Union
Main battle tank 186[34]
Infantry fighting vehicles
BMP-1  Soviet Union Infantry fighting vehicle 18
Six 9M14M "Malyutka" ATGMs were fitted on an elevatable mount from the 9P122 tank destroyer on the top of the turret at the rear.[35]
BMP-2  Soviet Union Infantry fighting vehicle 50
BMP-2s variant in use.
Reconnaissance vehicles
BRDM-2  Soviet Union Scout car
Tank destroyers
9P149 Shturm-S[36]  Soviet Union Tank destroyer
27 systems purchased from Moldova.[37] Displayed with 9M120 Ataka missile during the Defense Expo in Yerevan


Name Origin Type Number Image Notes
Self-propelled artillery
2S3 Akatsiya  Soviet Union Self-propelled artillery
D-1  Soviet Union Howitzer
D-20  Soviet Union Howitzer
D-30  Soviet Union Howitzer 98
Field artillery
ZiS-3[38]  Soviet Union Field artillery
76mm. Used during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. Withdrawn from service. Some used as monuments, while others are used by reserve units.

Air Forces

Aircraft Origin Type Number Image Notes
Transport and utility helicopters
Mil Mi-8  Soviet Union
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 transport and utility helicopters. Indeed, in 2012 parade, 5 Mi-8 helicopters were on display.[citation needed]

Military holidays

Shusha Liberation Day (9 May) and Homeland Defender's Day (28 January) are two military holidays celebrated by the Defence Army. The former commemorates the founding of the military as well as the Capture of Shusha and the traditional Victory Day celebrations commemorating the surrender of Nazi Germany at the end of the Great Patriotic War in 1945. Because of this, it is sometimes referred to as a "triple holiday". An annual military parade[39] is held in the capital, with a reception being held at the local House of Officers in the capital.

Whereas the Armenian Army celebrates Army Day on 28 January, the Defence Army celebrates Homeland Defender's Day on the same day.[40]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Blandy, C. W. "Azerbaijan: Is War Over Nagornyy Karabakh a Realistic Option? Archived 2016-04-15 at the Wayback Machine" 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 27 November 2009.
  3. ^ 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, eds. Mary Kaldor and Basker Vashee. London: Pinter, 2000, p. 79.
  4. ^ a b c De Waal, Thomas (2003). Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. New York: New York University Press. pp. 196–97, 210. ISBN 0-8147-1945-7.
  5. ^ a b Melkonian, Markar (2005). My Brother's Road, An American's Fateful Journey to Armenia. New York: I. B. Tauris. pp. 184ff. ISBN 1-85043-635-5.
  6. ^ a b c Giragosian, Richard. "Armenia and Karabakh: One Nation, Two States." AGBU Magazine 19/1 (May 2009), pp. 12–13.
  7. ^ See Melkonian. My Brother's Road, p. 225.
  8. ^ Mient Jan Faber in Mary Kaldor, Global Insecurity: Restructuring the Global Military Sector, volume III UNU/WIDER, London and New York: Pinter, 2000, p. 79. ISBN 9781855676442.
  9. ^ "Azeri Assault on Karabakh Outpost Kills Four Armenian Soldiers." Asbarez. 21 June 2010. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
  10. ^ Yevgrashina, Lada and Hasmik Mkrtchyan. "Azeris, Armenians spar after major Karabakh clash". Reuters. 5 March 2008. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  11. ^ "OSCE, EU Condemn Karabakh 'Armed Incident'." RFE/RL. 22 June 2010. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
  12. ^ "Հադրութի պաշտպանական շրջանի առաջին մոտոհրաձգային գումարտակ |". Retrieved 16 March 2021.
  13. ^ "ԲԱՑԱՌԻԿ ՖՈՏՈՌԵՊՈՐՏԱԺ, ՏԵՍԱՆՅՈՒԹ՝ Արցախի Հանրապետության "Եղնիկներ" զորամասից. լեգենդար զորամասում ներկա և ապագա լեգենդները նշեցին զորամասի կազմավորման 25-ամյակը". Լուրեր Հայաստանից | (in Armenian). Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  14. ^ "Documentary About The "Yeghnikner" Detachment – "Dark Forest In The Mountains" | Art-A-Tsolum". Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  15. ^ "Командира элитной воинской части НКР наградили за взятие важных высот". РИА Новости (in Russian). 2 October 2020. Retrieved 10 February 2021.
  16. ^ "Five main mysteries Of the second Karabakh war". ВПК.name. Retrieved 10 February 2021.
  17. ^ "Artsakh army refused to fulfill agreements on Karabakh". Retrieved 10 February 2021.
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ "Շուշիի առանձնակի գումարտակ". Radio YAN - Armenian Radio Station. 29 December 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Artsakh military unit's commander and deputies dismissed after drowning incident including soldiers". Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  22. ^ "՛Officers expelled from Mataghis military unit had passed a military path, it was a painful decision՛: minister". Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  23. ^ "Armenian analyst: New Artsakh army chief was commander of Mataghis military unit at 22 - Opera News". Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  24. ^ "Armenian analyst: New Artsakh army chief was commander of Mataghis military unit at 22". Armenian News. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  25. ^ "Նախագահ Սահակյանը մասնակցել է 8-րդ առանձին մոտոհրաձգային բրիգադի հիմնադրման 25-ամյակին նվիրված միջոցառմանը". Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  26. ^ "Բակո Սահակյանը մասնակցել է 8-րդ առանձին մոտոհրաձգային բրիգադի հիմնադրման 25-ամյակին նվիրված միջոցառմանը (ԼՈՒՍԱՆԿԱՐՆԵՐ)". (in Armenian). Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  27. ^
  28. ^ LLC, Academy Of Development. "Այսօր հետախույզի օրն է | ԼՂՀ պաշտպանության նախարարության պաշտոնական կայք". (in Armenian). Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  29. ^ LLC, Academy Of Development. "Զորամասի օր | ԼՂՀ պաշտպանության նախարարության պաշտոնական կայք". (in Armenian). Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  30. ^ "Աղաջանյան Ռոլես Գեորգիի". Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  31. ^ a b c d e 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.
  32. ^ a b c Hans-Joachim Schmidt, "Military Confidence Building and Arms Control in Unresolved Territorial Conflicts," PRIF Reports No 89, Frankfurt am Main, 2009, p.12.
  33. ^ "Հետք". Retrieved 9 October 2020.
  34. ^ The Military Balance 2018. London: Routledge. 2018. p. 181. ISBN 978-1857439557.
  35. ^ "info sheet armenian BMP1" (PDF).
  36. ^ "Армянская Армия/ Armenian Army/Հայկական բանակ". YouTube. 28 March 2014. Archived from the original on 26 May 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  37. ^ "Moldova to sell weapons package to Armenia". Archived from the original on 15 December 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  38. ^ "Армянская Армия/ Armenian Army/Հայկական բանակ". YouTube. 24 October 2014. Archived from the original on 26 May 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  39. ^ Պաշտպանության բանակի զորահանդեսները
  40. ^