Wednesday, April 6, 2016

April 2016 war in Karabakh: a chronology

Map of northeastern corner of Nagorno Karabakh where much of the intense
fighting occurred between Apr. 2-5. Due to Az. artillery fire, Arm. side
evacuated residents of Talish, Madagis and Mardakert.  Solid white line
running from upper left to bottom right is the Line of Contact.
Prepared by Emil Sanamyan.

All times local for Armenia and Azerbaijan, 1 hour ahead of Moscow and 8 hours ahead of EST.

April 2, Saturday

01:15 - According to NKR President Sahakyan consults with top military and security officials after first reports of Azerbaijani deployments. Initial assessment was that these deployments did not signify a large-scale attack, but a smaller-scale attacks typical of last two years. The meeting was dismissed but Defense Army commander Gen. Mnatsakanyan remained at work to watch the situation.

02:30 - An Az. Special Forces group surrounded in Talish/Madagis area, in the northeastern corner of Nagorno Karabakh.

After receiving reports of evacuation of Azerbaijani villages around Terter, Armenian officials begin to evacuate civilians from Talish, Madagis and Mardakert, located just 3-4 kilometers from LoC. More than 5,000 people were eventually evacuated and no civilian deaths have been reported from Az. missile and artillery fire in this area.

03:00-04:00 Sargsyan, then Aliyev leave summit in Washington. 

03:20 - Azerbaijani forces begin shelling Talish, Madagis, the town of Mardakert in the northeast and Mekhakavan and Araler in the south, with artillery and Grad missiles. Electricity was knocked out in the area as missile fire also hit the Madagis HPP generator. An RT video shows Az. Grad MLRS firing on Apr. 2 from south of Tartar.  In his April 4 press conference, Defense Army spokesman estimated some 1,350 Grad-type missiles fired within an hour.

04:00 - Azerbaijani forces launch attacks in the directions of Kazakhlar-Nuzger and Alkhanli-Fizuli in the south, as well as Kapanli/Seysulan-Shotlanli, Chailu-Madagis and Gulistan-Tonashen in the north; by 06:00 they succeeded in capturing five posts in Nuzger direction located on Lale Tepe hills. In Shotlanli direction, three posts were overran but quickly recaptured by Armenian forces. A post is part of the first line of Karabakah Defense Army's line of defense; each post is typically manned by an 8-member squad with 2 servicemen serving as lookouts at any given time.

04:15 - Armenian frontline observation camera video shows dozens of Azeri forces concentrating for an attack opposite posts 170-171 in Talish area. In subsequent attacks in Tapkarakoyunlu-Talish direction, Azerbaijani forces capture at least eight Armenian posts, at least two of which were returned in Armenian counterattacks by April 4.

08:00 Azerbaijani forces begin launching armored attacks in Horadiz-Nuzger in the south and Kaziyan-Shurabad in the northeast.

08:19 In the first public release about the escalation, Karabakh Defense Army reports on its web site about Az. offensive operations with the use of tanks, artillery and aviation in the southern, southeastern and northeastern directions; Karabakh civilian areas and military units hit by artillery fire; Armenian forces "having accepted the opponent's challenge, are engaged in defensive battles."

09:10 Karabakh Defense Army reports Azerbaijani helicopter hit in Gulistan area in the north of Karabakh around 0800. Later reports suggested that an Mi-8 that attempted to drop a special forces group behind Armenian posts was brought down with Igla MANPAD and crash-landed in Azerbaijani-controlled territory.

Early in the morning Azerbaijani Su-25 aircraft seen flying from Kurdamir air base towards Karabakh, but they did not engage targets on the ground. Later in the day, Armenian aircraft and helicopters reportedly fly out from airbases in Gumri and Erebuni, but also stay out of the fighting.

10:00 According to FlightRadar data, Az. civilian flights resume from Nakhichevan and Baku after 4-hour delay. 

10:25 Karabakh Defense Army reports Grad strike near Martuni at 08:30 kills 12 y.o. schoolboy, wounds 2 other children; although Saturday, April 2 was a working day in Armenia and NKR with the following Monday a day off.

12:00 In its first public statement on the fighting, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense reports Armenian artillery fire in Terter and Agdam districts; 1 civilian dead and 2 others wounded when their car is hit by Grad shrapnel; denies helicopter shot down.

12:50 Karabakh Defense Army reports continued heavy fighting in Horadiz-Hadrut and Terter-Mardakert directions, publishes photos of dead Az. SF personnel and of Israeli-made ThunderB UAV brought down nearly intact in northern NK, claims 2 Az. tanks hit by Armenian forces in the south and 1 in the north. 2nd Az. helicopter shot down in southeastern direction around 12:30. (On April 4 Bars Media Films talked to soldiers who shot down that Mi-24G; according to documents recovered from it, a day earlier the Kala-based Mi-24G no. 305 was pre-positioned in the town of Beylagan, 30km from LoC, and was tasked with hitting targets in the southeastern direction, up to 10km inside the LoC). 

12:58 Russian president Vladimir Putin "calls for an immediate cessation of fire to avoid additional human losses," according to a statement circulated by his spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

14:00 Armenian president returns to Yerevan, his office announces plans to hold a National Security Council session in the evening.

17:00 Az. MoD press release claims control of Talish, Madagis, Seysulan and Lale Tepe hills near Iranian border, says 12 of its soldiers killed, confirms one helicopter shot down. Some time later Az. MoD modified its press release to drop references to control of Talish, Madagis and Seysulan and referring instead to "heights around Talish." Subsequent Armenian media coverage from Talish and the heights, such as this PanArmenian photo report, challenged this claim, but confirmed that Az forces managed to capture Armenian frontline posts northeast of Talish. Most of the ruins of Seysulan in Mardakert dist. have been under Az. control since 1992 and could not have been captured afresh; the Az. attack in this area was reversed by mid-day April 2 with Az. forces sustaining heavy casualties. The Defense Army acknowledged Az. control of Lale Tepe; a video report made on April 7 showed Arm. and Az. forces digging new trenches in that area.
On the south-eastern corner of Armenian-controlled territory fighting reportedly focused on Lale Tepe (center), just two
kilometers from Iranian border (divided from the Caucasus by Araxes river).
Azerbaijan social media groups spread video and photos of severed head of 19-year-old army Pvt. Karam Sloyan , bodies of other dead Armenian soldiers seen in frontline trenches. (According to a later report, Sloyan's body was recovered when his Seysulan area post was recaptured, but the decapitated head was only returned by Az. officials on April 10. According to later reports three of 21 bodies of Armenian servicemen that were subsequently returned in an exchange with Azerbaijan were decapitated.)

18:50 Photos are published of half a dozen bodies Az. special forces servicemen in Talish/Madagiz areas; Karabakh defense army says that in addition to two helicopters throughout the day Az. forces lost 2 tanks and 2 UAVs in Mardakert direction and 2 tanks in southern direction; video and photos of the Mi-24G helicopter wreckage are published at 20:50.

19:35 Karabakh defense army publishes drone video and stills from over Seysulan frontline showing more than twenty bodies lying along the frontline, as well as one apparently damaged tank (click for youtube link).

Reservists gather in Stepanakert as partial mobilization begins.

20:00 Sargsyan chairs the National Security Council meeting in Yerevan. In a televised portion he says that 18 Armenian servicemen have been confirmed killed and 35 wounded, but that the Armenian military has "taken the situation under its control."

April 3, Sunday

07:25 Karabakh Defense Army reports Az. resumed artillery fire and offensive operations in southern direction at 06:00. 

11:35 Karabakh Defense Army reports intense fighting ongoing in NE NK and near Araxes, says Armenian forces have pushed back Az. forces in Talish area; reports additional 2 tanks, 1 IFV destroyed in southern direction.

13:55 Karabakh Defense Army reports continued intense fighting in the north and in the south; says Azerbaijani side lost 3 tanks in Mardakert direction. Since April 2, Az. side is estimated to have lost 14 tanks and 5 IFVs. The Armenian side confirms loss of 1 tank. Grad missile and 152-mm artillery fire continues against Mardakert.

Midday: Journalists from Yerevan (Civilnet, RFERLHetq, 168.amSputnik), Tbilisi (Rustavi2) and Moscow (RT,, Kommersant) travel to Mardakert; some of them come under artillery fire and later return to Stepanakert. Meantime, other journalists from Yerevan are stuck in a snowstorm in southern Armenia; with snow in the mountains, it is raining in much of Karabakh foothills, also restricting the breadth of combat operations.

15:00 Photographers Hakob Poghosyan and German Avagyan joined a group of policemen from Mardakert going to Talish. In the evening publishes Poghosyan's photographs from Talish of an elderly couple and their elderly female relative killed and at least two of their bodies mutilated. The killings are believed to be the work of an Azerbaijani SF group that was in the area early on Apr. 2 and also ambushed an army supply truck killing its driver and accompanying military officer, and decapitating them. Both Avagyan - whose photos from Talish on April 3 are here - and journalist Ilya Azar who visited Talish on April 6 noted that the house where the killings of civilians took place was at the very edge of the village. Italy's Sky TV interviewed Hakob Poghosyan about his photographs. Subsequent video reports, such as this one by, showed bodies of Az. SF personnel killed in the minefield just north of Talish.

16:25 Karabakh Defense Army reports that Az. MoD's claims of unilateral cease-fire are disinformation and that fighting continues; says that return to cease-fire is possible only when the cease-fire line is restored to where it was on April 1.

Az. MoD confirms three more of its soldiers killed; ANS TV shows footage of Az. forces shooting down what they believe is an Armenian drone, but it looks like Israel-made Orbiter-2M used by Azerbaijan rather than any of the drones known to be used by Armenia. 

18:00 Russian Life News TV crew is expelled from Az. for its report from Tartar that claimed that locals were fleeing the bombardment and were unhappy with the fighting; the Life News crew also recorded a report from Sarijali in Tartar district. A Georgian Rustavi TV crew was also detained by local police while reporting from the area.

22:00 Buses with volunteers, many of them veterans of the 1991-94 war, begin arriving in Stepanakert; some of the volunteers are interviewed by CivilNet

April 4, Monday

04:00 In a later interview a Defense Army Zu-23-2 AA gun operator reported shooting down a Harop UAV at about 04:00 on April 4. Around the same time another Harop drone was reported brought down by an Armenian Zu-23-2 AA gun in the same area.  Flight radar data from later in the morning registers Azerbaijani Defense Ministry's Il-76 (AZAF8) transport plane arriving at Israeli military base and departing after several hours; the same Il-76 makes another trip to Israel on April 6.

08:10 Karabakh Defense Army reports continued fighting and exchanges of fire using Grad MLRS and 152-mm artillery. 

10:45 Karabakh Defense Army claims Armenian forces have "retaken the initiative in the fighting," claims 3 Az. tanks hit in the north and 2 in the south. 

Media group (inc. RT) travels to Mardakert, comes under artillery fire. An RFERL video captures a an Israeli IAI-produced Harop drone striking a target in Mardakert district. Among targets hit by Harop drones was a bus with volunteers from Sisian area standing at entrance to Talish, seven people on the bus are killed, two of the injured died days later. 

13:30 Karabakh Defense army reports that Az. has for the first time fired from Tos-1A MLRS reportedly in Talish area, but no significant damage reported; claims Armenian forces destroyed three attack drones. Harop drones were used to attack buildings and military and civilian vehicles in Talish area, videos released by Azerbaijani defense ministry the following day appeared to show Harop strikes on a military base in Talish and three Armenian T-72s. 

President Sargsyan seen visiting with wounded servicemen at the military hospital in Erebuni. 

16:31 Russia's Life News claims Azeris from ISIS going from Syria to join the fight in NK; the report followed the expulsion of the channel's crew from Azerbaijan. The following day Azerbaijani government promised to arrest any ISIS members arriving in Azerbaijan.

In the afternoon, Armenian forces observe Azerbaijani armor build up along the LoC in Agdam district; Armenian artillery opens fire on tanks and other Azerbaijani positions. This video from Azerbaijani side shows at least 18 Az. tanks, 1 IFV and 1 armored recovery vehicle "moving towards Agdam." On April 6, Azerbaijani service of Russian Sputnik news agency reported on damage to civilians in Mahrizli, saying that "more than 100" shells and Grad rockets hit villages of Mahrizli and Zangishali in Agdam district in the evening of April 4. 

19:00 Karabakh Defense Army operations chief Col. Viktor Arustamyan holds a briefing for foreign media, reports Armenian losses at 20 killed, 72 wounded, 26 missing, as well as 7 tanks lost; estimates Az. side's losses at 18  tanks, 2 helicopters, 1 Grad MLRS and 6 UAVs. Says Azerbaijani army was able to capture and defend 5 posts in Nuzger (Lale Tepe) direction and 3 posts in Tapkarakoyunlu-Madagis direction. 

Azerbaijani sources claim that since April 3, Israeli-produced Spike anti-tank guided missiles helped knock out a number of Armenian T-72s; photo evidence subsequently confirmed use of Spike ATGMs against Armenian tanks.

19:15 Azerbaijani Minister of Defense publicly orders "preparations of heavy missile-artillery forces for a strike on Xankendi area," the Azerbaijani name for Stepanakert. The Defense Army warns Az. military command of a "painful response" if its threat to attack Stepanakert is carried out. Later in the year, Armenian Public TV revealed that already on April 3, Armenian forces were ready to launch Iskander, Scud and Tochka ballistic missiles at Azerbaijani targets should Armenian towns come under Azerbaijani missile attack.

19:17 The Russian Southern Military District reports its Dagestan-based motor-rifle brigade (1000 men, 300 units of equipment) holding snap exercises near Buinaksk, practicing counter-insurgency tactics; those exercises continued for several days. 

22:30 A bus with a group of journalists returning from Madagis to Mardakert comes under artillery fire, no casualties reported. 

23:30 - a news site controlled by the Azerbaijani president's office - citing its "regional correspondent" claims the Azerbaijani forces had just captured Madagis, Karabakh MoD denies the report at 23:59.

According to FlightRadar data, Russian Il-76 flies to Yerevan via Azerbaijan and Iran.

April 5, Tuesday
08:35: Karabakh Defense Army reports heavy artillery fire overnight, inc. first use of Smerch MLRS in southern direction; Armenian MoD also reports that fire was opened on Tavush villages.

10:00 Az. MoD says that 16 az. soldiers have been killed ‘in last 2 days’ for total of 31 killed. At this time, exiled Azerbaijani journalist publish names and photographs of some 50 Azerbaijani servicemen killed.

11:45 Karabakh Defense Army reports continued artillery attacks against civilian areas in Mardakert and Martuni districts. Video published of Armenian Osa-AKM crew hitting another Az. drone, likely Orbiter 2M. An anonymous Armenian military source, citing Azerbaijani threats against Stepanakert, threatens a ballistic missile strike on Azerbaijani energy infrastructure.

14:00 Russian president's spokesman Dmitry Peskov is cited as saying that developments in Karabakh are causing "growing concerns" and that "energetic efforts are underway" to address these concerns. Later in the day, Russian media reports that Putin made calls to Aliyev and Sargsyan. Reports surface that Armenian and Azerbaijani chiefs of staff Khachaturov and Sadykov met in Moscow and agreed to cease fire.

14:00 During a media trip to an Armenian artillery battery SE of Hadrut, no shooting is reported. Report by Ilya Azar of Meduza. Reporters photograph Smerch munitions launched by Azeri forces that landed near Shukurbeyli, some 10 kilometers from the LoC and about 1 kilometer from the Iranian border. Later in the day, Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman published additional photos of Smerch munitions that landed in Karabakh. 

14:44 RT: Karabakh forces agreed to truce "since noon;" Azerbaijan confirms soon after.

Midday: Aliyev speaking to several families of servicemen killed in fighting outside main military hospital in Baku says that an "adequate blow was delivered to Armenians."

19:00 Karabakh Defense Army briefing reports Armenian side suffered 29 killed, 101 wounded and 14 tanks lost; estimates Az. side's losses at 24 tanks, 5 IFVs, 2 helicopters, 1 Grad system, 12 UAVs.

April 6, Wednesday

While the cease-fire held generally, in the evening the Karabakh defense ministry reported attacks in northern direction and a death of servicemen from hostile mortar fire in Mardakert area.

A medical emergency vehicle was reportedly fired upon by an Az. tank near LoC as it was in the area to collect bodies of dead tank crew members.

22:45 An Armenian crew of ZSU-23-4 AA gun brought down another Harop suicide drone.

April 7, Thursday

7PM: Defense army reported an Azerbaijani-launched UAV shot down in Askeran area. The Az. Defense Ministry reported that it managed to land an Armenian-made X-55-type UAV intact.

10PM: Shooting and explosions reported in Stepanakert as an Azeri drone was reportedly brought down on city outskirts.

April 8-10, Friday-Sunday

Sides agreed to exchange bodies of soldiers killed in action and facilitate searches for those missing. Remains of 21 Armenian and 13 Azerbaijani servicemen are exchanged at Bash Karvend. Nearly all of the remains of Armenian servicemen came from the captured Armenian positions at Leletepe in the south, all of the Azerbaijani remains were of special forces personnel killed in the Mardakert district in the north. Dozens more bodies of Azerbaijani personnel were collected from no-man's land, mostly near Armenian positions at Seysulan and Talish.

April 26-28, Tuesday-Thursday

Following a relative hiatus in fighting, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces engaged in three straight nights of artillery exchanges, using 122/152mm howitzers and BM-21 Grad systems, as well as mortars; subsequently HALO Trust reported that parts of the Mardakert district were hit with Israeli-produced M095 cluster munitions fired from Lar-160 MLRS. Armenian side reported two servicemen killed by hostile fire on 4/26; Az. MoD did not report on its military casualties, but Az. Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed there were some. The shelling focused on an area roughly 5 to 10km from LoC, as well as frontline positions. Armenian side reported Az. attacks at Madagis, Nerkin Oratagh and the town of Mardakert. Az. reported Armenian attacks in Goranboy, Terter, Agdam and Agjabedi districts and civilian damage. Armenian claimed civilian damage was due to Azerbaijani forces locating artillery positions inside or near residential areas, publishing drone-shot footage of Azerbaijani-controlled Agdam district villages.


Following exchanges of remains of soldiers initially listed as missing in action (MIA), the Armenian military's casualties for April 2-5 reached 65 servicemen killed in combat and more than 120 wounded. Of the 65 killed, 15 were identified as officers and 1 NCO, 15 contracted and 34 drafted enlisted men. Additionally 13 civilian volunteers and 4 local civilian residents were killed. The updated list of the names of Armenian fatalities is published here.

The Azerbaijani defense ministry has not release any additional casualty figures to 31 officially reported on April 5 and never published a more or less complete list of its casualties. But Meydan TV, and collected information on some 100 servicemen killed in combat or missing (and presumed dead) and six civilians killed in shelling between April 2-5. Since the list was compiled primarily from public funerals reports, the real death toll remains unknown. At least 44 of those identified were special forces personnel, including chief of staff of the SF Command, two SF brigade commanders and adjutant to the head of SF command.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My recent article highlights

Got a chance to ask Armenia's president about his political
successor and public diplomacy towards Azerbaijan. Oct. 1
2015 photo by Armenian president's press office
A list of my recent publications with links to full articles or summaries, where available (some content is available only to subscribers):

- Feb. 18, 2016 Russia details USD200 million arms sale to Armenia, Jane's Defence Weekly
- Feb. 6, 2016 China in the Caucasus, The Diplomat
- Feb. 2, 2016 Armenia: State foils domestic terrorism plot, Economist Intelligence Unit
- Feb. 1, 2016 Majority-minority relations in Armenia, Caucasus Edition 
- Jan. 18, 2016 Russian military expands in Armenia amid tensions with Turkey, Jane’s Defence Weekly
- Jan. 14, 2016 Armenia-Azerbaijan Attrition War Escalates, The Armenian Weekly (Boston)
- UAVs contribute to spike in Armenia-Azerbaijan fighting, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Jan. 6, 2016 
- Overhaul of Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry and Its Significance, The Armenian Wеekly (U.S.), Dec. 29, 2015
- Nardaran: Azerbaijan cracks down on religious opposition, Economist Intelligence Unit, Dec. 21, 2015
- Interview with Georgian Defence Minister Tinatin Khidasheli, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Dec. 8, 2015
- Tactics shift in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, Jane’s Intelligence ReviewOct. 20, 2015 
- Azerbaijan: President dismisses security chief, Economist Intelligence UnitOct. 19, 2015 
- Azerbaijani Security Service and Its Glendale Bank Account, The Armenian Weekly (U.S.), July 31, 2015 
- On Armenia and Turkey after the genocide (prepared notes for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event held in Washington on Apr. 30, 2015) 
- Ամերիկա-իրանական տանդե՞մ (On potential U.S.-Iranian cooperation in Middle East) Analyticon (Stepanakert)April 2015 
- Şu Diaspora dedikleri... (On Armenian American Diaspora) Agos (Istanbul)Mar. 13, 2015
- Armenia politics: Will Sargsyan serve his full term? Economist Intelligence UnitMar. 10, 2015
- Date with destiny: Centenary highlights Turkey’s political shifts, Jane’s Intelligence ReviewFeb. 2015 
- Interview with Georgian Defence Minister Mindia Janelidze, Jane’s Defence WeeklyFeb. 10, 2015 
- Gruesome killings undermine Russia-Armenia rapport, Jane’s Defence WeeklyFeb. 4, 2015
- Loose Restraints: A Look at the Increasingly Shaky Karabagh Ceasefire, The Armenian Weekly (U.S.), Feb. 4, 2015 
- Cost of conflict: Azerbaijan censors casualty data, Economist Intelligence UnitJan. 31, 2015
- Rhetoric and reality in Azerbaijan’s military spending, Economist Intelligence Unit, Jan. 28, 2015 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My interview with incoming Armenian ambassador to U.S.

This interview with Grigor Hovhannisian is from Aug. 2012, while he was consul general in Los Angeles (2009-13). From 2013 to 2016 Hovhannisian was Armenia's ambassador to Mexico. For more background see an earlier interview from Feb. 2009.

Armenia’s Consul in LA: Status of Armenia in the Western U.S. has been elevated

A former UN relief worker in MidEast, Grigor Hovhannissian says exodus of Armenians from region likely

Published: Friday August 10, 2012
Grigor Hovhannisian. Wikipedia
Armenia's Consul General in Los Angeles Grigor Hovhannissian was recently a subject of an anonymous complaint published by from a group of compatriots now living in the United States. This has prompted The Armenian Reporter's editor Emil Sanamyan to follow up with Mr. Hovhannissian on the charges made against him and other topics related to the Consulate's work. Taking into account the current crisis in Syria and Mr. Hovhannissian's background in humanitarian work for the United Nations in the Middle East, The Reporter's questions also dealt with that subject. The questions were submitted and returned in writing. 

Emil Sanamyan for The Armenian Reporter: This issue is not in your current area of responsibility but one in which you have considerable expertise: the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria and of Aleppo specifically. What kind of action should Armenia and Diaspora Armenian organizations undertake to help their compatriots?

Grigor Hovhannissian: I can only answer your question as an ex-practitioner who served in the region for several years. Therefore, this would be my personal opinion, not an official one.

Middle East is undergoing tectonic changes and this process takes a heavy toll on one of the largest clusters of the Armenian people and its oldest institutions - political and cultural. We are all seriously alarmed as the conflict unfolds in and around one of the last Armenian "strongholds" in the region- Aleppo. This being said, we should resist the temptation to become alarmists and not rush into precipitous conclusions particularly because our policy choices are fairly limited.

We must continue the world-wide Armenian debate about our Syrian compatriots' future-- something we did not do during and in the aftermath of the war in Iraq. We must maintain a long term perspective while being watchful and strongly concerned with the immediate short term security and well-being of our compatriots.

As far as humanitarian situation is concerned, as we speak, it is serious, but not yet dire. It would take a longer period, harsher sanctions and a more intense unrest and insurgency to bring this upper middle income country to a near collapse, when the economy as a whole and the population's individual coping mechanisms fail to meet increasing costs of war and destruction. 

For now, we observe accelerated economic decline, massive loss of income, damage to infrastructure, particularly in the north and a significant population displacement both internally and internationally. It's unfortunate. We already hear reports of disruptions to the supply of basic commodities (e.g. long queues at Aleppo's bakeries), however this is mainly caused by urban warfare and insecurity.

For the purpose of crisis preparedness we should build on earlier experiences of the Arab Spring, however, the Syrian crisis is likely to follow the pattern of its own. My take is that all else equal, in the immediate short term, the Syrian army will maintain its grip over much of the country and gain the upper hand in Aleppo. I expect that Syrian Armenians, who have long developed their own coping strategies, would remain largely intact.

However, it is increasingly obvious that already in the mid to long run - say within the next couple of years, there may be a massive exodus of our compatriots from Syria, and, unfortunately, from the rest of the Middle East.

For now, we should focus on advocacy efforts - at all levels and with all stakeholders as to make sure that the interest and the physical security of our compatriots is factored in while making post-war plans.  I do not believe that Armenia should induce an accelerated flight of compatriots to Armenia.

In an ideal world, a permanently stand by airlift capacity should be in place to reach out to our compatriots in various areas of their possible displacement (not just Aleppo international airport) under the worst case scenario.

AR: In your estimation do Armenian diplomats and organizations in Syria have the capacity to properly assess the humanitarian situation of the community in present circumstances?

GH: I do believe that we have adequate knowledge of the country and the community and hence all the tools to make accurate assessment. We have all heard that the Government of Armenia currently operates a plan that has three scenarios for possible development and, accordingly, an action plan for each of the plausible scenarios. 

As far as "things turning bad" - in recent years in the region we have seen total incommunicado situations in Iraq at the height of insurrection and more recently in Libya. I do not expect similar difficulties in Syria. I also believe that our country will maintain a minimum diplomatic presence in Syria and will not evacuate even under more adverse circumstances and help the community and its organizations throughout the crisis.

AR: Currently the inflow from Syria to Armenia has been relatively small, estimated at several thousand people, but this flow could increase. How should Armenia go about seeking international assistance to make preparations now for the likelihood of additional displaced persons from Syria?

GH: The international community has all sorts of contingency plans in place for massive population displacement in and out of Syria. Specialized agencies would most probably anticipate and in a way guide the outflows towards Turkey and possibly Jordan. Lebanon, would be reluctant to receive large refugee groups from Syria, because of the country's size and willingness to contain the political and demographic implications the influx would entail (Lebanon already has a very serious refugee situation with Palestinians in the camps).
So if large numbers of Armenians made it to Republic of Armenia - it would be over time, say several months, and it would be gradual. When that happens, of course, Armenia should expect the international community to assist the country in accepting, securing, sheltering those who seek refuge.

As I said above, many experts believe that the exodus of Christians from the Middle East is imminent. Under this scenario, Armenia should want to retain at least a portion of the fleeing Armenian population. International humanitarian effort will not be adequate to bring and retain that population. More elaborate schemes, through public -private partnership, through financial instruments and long term affordable mortgages should be devised to build new viable communities, or even new towns in Armenia, to make the country more attractive for our compatriots. In turn, they will bring lots of skills and talent, and certainly contribute to Armenia's rich culture, competitiveness and growth.

AR: We last spoke in 2009, shortly after you took up your responsibilities in LA. What would you say have been your main accomplishments in these three years plus? You described the consulate three years ago as a "service mission" what sort of services would you now say you successfully undertake?

GH: In absolute terms, the Consulate grew significantly in its scope and coverage. As a result, the status of Armenia in the Western United States has been elevated. The level of cooperation and interaction with our community, authorities, opinion makers and the private sector has developed along cultural, economic and diplomatic lines.

Three and a half years into my tenure, I still believe and preach a "service mission" as the main motto for the Armenian Consulate in Los Angeles. As a result, we have taken strides in the right direction-- although I realize that the evaluation of these services should come from the end users.

This being said, there are things that are quantifiable and I would like to take a minute to list activities that the Consulate of Armenia started and implemented for the first time in the last 16 years Armenia has a consular mission in the US West Coast.

·         Consulate became more accessible physically and "virtually" for consular services. We moved into the community and improved the physical and technical conditions, which now parallel those of more advanced countries. We became "virtually" accessible to our compatriots who live in States outside California through our website, downloadable applications, hotline, a Facebook page, advanced telephone system that provide pre-recorded information on all consular services 24X7. We also help all citizens who seek qualified legal assistance and cannot afford otherwise;

·         Consulate supports the Armenian community through building strategic alliances with other communities;

·         Consulate introduced Armenia and the Armenian-American community to prestigious trade, travel, and book shows;

·         Consulate is promoting business to business contacts between Armenian business, Armenian importers and their counterparts in other communities;

·         Consulate is reaching out to critically important institutions, e.g. museums, universities, newspapers, cultural institutions and linking them to/with the Armenian community; promoting Armenian artists and organizing major exhibits at the Consulate of Armenia; promoting the community and local Armenian leaders among international community representatives through hosting annual consular events;

·         Consulate started open house initiatives - open to the whole community: on Armenian Christmas eve and on Armenian Independence Day for the community to visit the consulate and celebrate.

·         Consulate brought enhanced cooperation with the already existing community initiatives, such as ArmTech, Arpa Film Festival, etc. and established professional awards - for the Armenian cineastes, Silicon Valley professionals, educators, Armenian National Basketball Team etc.

·         And of course a crown jewel - House of Armenia! We as a nation and as a country now have a home in greater Los Angeles that is a source of pride and inspiration for so many of us.

And all of the above was and is being achieved at no additional cost to the Armenian taxpayer.

AR: For as long as I remember, LA Armenians have been complaining about Armenian consuls in LA. What complaints do you hear most frequently and what do you do about them?

GH: I agree with this observation as far as the citizens or former Armenian nationals are concerned. There is a number of explanations for the above.

First and foremost is that the causes that prompted these people to leave Armenia in the first place have not been "alleviated." A certain level of dissatisfaction with our services, e.g. perceived slowness in delivering bureaucratic formalities, fees associated for the paperwork, is typical to a low income group who either migrated to the US illegally, or are in process of asylum applications, i.e. in both cases their access to US social benefits is severely curtailed. Added, is their inability to travel to Armenia, for the lack of papers and resources, and, for the fear of military draft, one can gauge the overall level of their frustration.

Can the Consulate be more forthcoming and treat these compatriots more compassionately? Yes and no. In exceptional cases, we can and we do waive fees, and in urgent cases, we help our people in any way we can. But there are things we cannot change - like the mandatory military service and registration for service, without which no males of draft age can travel to Armenia or enter into any formal transactions.

AR: One complaint I have seen in recent weeks is that you had "refused" from meeting with some of the community members - presumably on more than one occasion - why was that?

GH: I have never refused to meet with community members who want to discuss matters of concern to the community, our country, specific organizations or groups. Also, we at the Consulate do not exercise a selective approach as to who to meet and who to not. Those who claim the contrary to this statement are being disingenuous and cannot produce any proofs to the contrary.

There is hardly any organization or association in the community that has not been to the House of Armenia for an event, consultation, reception, working session, etc.

AR: What is your attitude towards community members staging protests outside the consulate with regard to events in Armenia, such as the recent murder of Vahe Avetyan?

GH: People have their constitutional right to express their views and voice their protest. As an apolitical institution, we do not and we cannot have an attitude or judgment as to the cause or purpose of those protests.  To our best ability, we guarantee that our country and our national symbols are treated with due respect during these protests.

On our official Facebook page and communications, we have thanked all community members who had expressed their solidarity with Armenia in the wake of Vahe's tragic death, that has caused a massive outrage both in Armenia and diaspora.

AR: How frequently would you say you appear in public and what sort of audiences are these?

GH: Several times a week, I attend or host public events. With minor exceptions, when I cannot, I do attend all major community events across the entire spectrum: political, professional, educational, compatriotic, religious, etc.

On a regular basis, I communicate with local media through press conferences, media briefings, and televised interviews. Since early 2012, close to 30 interviews were given to local Armenian TV outlets. In addition, our Facebook page, Consulate's newsletter, which is being mass-mailed and the website provide timely information on Consulate's activities and Consul's meetings.

AR: Do you think there is a disconnect between community expectations and consul's mandate? What are these disconnects?

GH: Over the last years, we have considerably expanded the mandate to meet the ever changing characteristics, size and distribution of the Armenian - American community in the Western U.S.

Many countries with large ethnic diasporas experience similar situations. Some countries adjusted their mandate to cater to the needs of their migrant workers (e.g. Mexican Consulates provide free medical services) and to actually foster labor migration, others regard their nationals as an extension of domestic political process , some others regard their citizenry exclusively as a vector to promoting economic interests.

Our own mandate is tailored to ensure the strong bonds between the homeland and the community, preservation of national identity, culture and language, to ensure that the rights of our citizens are respected, while not encouraging additional immigration, to contribute to the consolidation of various segments of the diaspora and to promote Armenia's interests through Armenian-American community.

Of course, this broad statement of objective creates additional expectations in the community as to Armenia's more active engagement in the support of institutions, which contribute to all the above: schools, media, charities, youth and advocacy groups. And here, unfortunately, we are lagging behind expectations, although the gap is narrowing.

AR: Several years ago, U.S.authorities charged a number of individuals associated with the Consulate (prior to your appointment) on charges of fraud and other corrupt activities. What has come of those charges? Can you ascertain that such practices have stopped?

GH: The infamous "consuls' affair" caused a major blow to the Consulate and the community in the wake of my new mission. Because of the large resonance it created, a considerable effort went into damage control.

To this date, no convictions were made against the alleged wrongdoers - none of whom were incumbent diplomats serving at the Consulate of Armenia at the time of the alleged crime.

And my answer is "Yes" I can ascertain that the Consulate is free of non-transparent and illegal practices. All transactions and services offered at the Consulate are provided in accordance with the spirit and letter of the Armenian law.

AR: Finally, as a former director of the Shushi Revival Fund, do you continue to follow events in Shushi, what is your assessment of them and is that Fund still functioning?

GH: Of course I do. I remain very passionate about the historic capital of Artsakh and I do follow developments and reconstruction efforts. 

Following my resignation from the Fund, it operated for another year or so and was dissolved based on the Trustees' decision to hand over the assets and projects to the Government of NK and the Armenia Fund. I personally regret that decision, because Shushi Fund's comparative advantage was in its ability to attract private investment into what would be an economic development plan, as opposed to reconstruction through public fundraising.

Nevertheless, Armenia Fund has made remarkable progress in the city over the last couple of years, thus dramatically improving Shushi's infrastructure and its residents' standards of living. On my part, I am happy to have been involved in the Shushi Revival Fund and for projects we accomplished.

For more information about the consulate visit

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Armenia NT in 2012-13: Great players, woeful management

Nobel Arustamyan revealed over the weekend that Armenian nationals Yura Movsisyan and Aras Ozbiliz will be leaving Spartak Moscow on loan to other, so far undisclosed teams. Below are my articles on Yura's and Henrikh Mkhitaryan's accomplishments in their clubs and national team.

Movsisyan started his tenure at Spartak with a hat trick
Yura Movsisyan signs `huge contract' with top Russian club
by Emil Sanamyan

The Armenian Reporter
Published: Sunday December 09, 2012

WASHINGTON - Armenia international Yura Movsisyan has signed on with the most popular Russian football club Spartak Moscow, the athlete and his new and former clubs confirmed on December 8.

Owner of FC Krasnodar Sergey Galitsky said in his Twitter that "we let Yura go since he was offered a huge contract. He did a lot for us. We thank him for everything... and he knows that he can always come here." In 2011 and 2012, Movsisyan scored 23 goals in 50 matches for FC Krasnodar.

Media reports suggest that Spartak gave the 25-year-old Movsisyan a five-year contract and a salary valued at between 1.5 and possibly over 2 million Euros. The transfer was estimated at 8 million Euros, and if this is correct it is the highest amount ever paid for an Armenian national team player.

The previous record was set by Ukraine champions Shakhtar Donetsk who acquired Henrik Mkhitaryan for about 6 million Euros in 2010. This season, Mkhitaryan has emerged as the top goal scorer in the Ukrainian championship with 18 goals in 17 matches, his transfer value has risen to over 17 million Euros.

Movsisyan also had a bumper season playing for mid-ranked FC Krasnodar, scoring 9 goals in 13 matches. At Spartak he will first need to win a spot on the main squad, with the Moscow team currently retaining five other forwards. The team is currently languishing in the 9th place, just a spot ahead of FC Krasnodar. But unlike Movsisyan's former team, FC Spartak is in a perennial hunt for top prizes.

Movsisyan can be inspired by the fact that his compatriot Nikita Simonyan remains Spartak's top goal scorer in history, knocking in 133 goals in 233 matches between 1949 and 1959. Simonyan subsequently coached FC Ararat Yerevan in its glory days in the early 1970s.

Having joined the Armenian national team in recent years, players like Mkhitaryan, Movsisyan and Aras Ozbiliz - with 7 goals in 15 matches for Russia's FC Kuban this season - make Armenia a team to be reckoned with today and in years to come.

Armenian Reporter
Armenia football: time for management change
Commentary by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Tuesday March 26, 2013

Armenia has lost its third straight match in the World Cup qualification campaign and has essentially lost all chances of going to Brazil. It is not like the chances were great from the start -Armenia did end up in one of the toughest qualification groups. But fans around the world expected much more from the very talented offensive line than a total of two goals in four matches, for an aggregate of 2-7.

These performances revealed and made more acute the particular problems with player selection, tactics and motivation that are the domain of the team management. They stand in particular contrast with successes of the team's players in their clubs. This naturally calls for an assessment of management failures of Armenia's football federation chair Ruben Hovannisyan and coach Vardan Minasyan.

Certainly, had Armenia won all or most of its recent matches, the many of the problems listed below may have continued to be overlooked. But following the abysmal performances, it is useful to review the list of sins and omissions.


Speaking after the 0-3 loss to the Czechs on March 26, Minasyan came across as not quite adequate psychologically. Far from sounding apologetic about the result, he lashed out at journalists in a passive aggressive tone: "Did I ever saying we were going to Brazil? Our aim is to improve our game... Our level of play hasn't worsened, we just stopped getting results."

After struggling to put a goal past Malta, Armenia have not played a single qualification match in a motivated manner for complete 90 minutes. Armenia folded to Bulgaria, Italy and the Czechs long before the final whistle. All this is evidence of Minasyan's failure to motivate many of his players to remain focused on the game for its entire duration.

In comments following the match, one of Armenia's top players Henrikh Mkhitaryan took a swipe at several unnamed teammates that he believed did not play the game full-steam. But the problem with having unmotivated players on the field is not with these players per se, it is with the coach who puts them on the field. And today, the range of Minasyan's options has improved compared to what it was in 2010 and 2011.

In those years, Armenia did not always shine, but motivation was clearly there in all matches, including in the matches it lost to Ireland and Russia.

And when Armenia's players aren't coached by Minasyan, they remain rather motivated. Mkhitaryan is the top goal scorer in Ukraine's premiere league, having racked up 19 goals in 20 matches; Yura Movsisyan leads Russia's goal scorers with 12 goals in 15 matches and Aras Ozbilis is not that far behind with 8 goals in 16 matches.


Armenia came to the March 26 match with its two insides (most significantly Karlen Mkrtchyan) and one defender disqualified, and three other players injured. This precipitated perhaps the most fateful decision of the match: Minasyan put Mkhitaryan to defensive tasks. Instead of sticking to short passing game that brought it success in the past, Armenia relied on long balls from the goalkeeper Roman Berezovski and right flank approaches by the young Kamo Hovannisyan. Neither tactic proved effective.

While Movsisyan and Marcos Pizzelli created some danger for the Czechs, with Mkhitaryan pulled back the offensive play looked disjointed. Edgar Manucharyan and Gevorg Ghazaryan, who have not had playing experience in their respective clubs for months, looked bleak; Ozbilis and Artur Sarkisov who have done great for their clubs in recent weeks did not come into play until late in the game, when Armenia already allowed the first Czech goal.

And that first Czech goal was as banal as the second and third Italian goals, and as many of the goals Armenia allowed in previous matches. Armenian defenders were once again beaten on a high pass. This keeps happening primarily because most of the Armenian players are vertically challenged. The only defender above 180 cm (6 ft.) tall deployed against the Czechs was Robert Arzumanyan and he too did not play his best match. The 190 cm tall Artem Khachaturov recently recruited from Moldova remained on the bench. While at 20 years, Khachaturov may lack experience, Minasyan's choice - Taron Voskanian - was lacking in both experience and height.


The questionable tactical choices for specific matches come on the back of even more questionable selection policies of the national team. Repeatedly in recent years, Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) chair Ruben Hayrapetyan took a personal dislike of players, including several that could well compensate for Armenia's height disadvantages (Joaquin Boghossian, Denis Tumasyan, Grigor Meliksetyan), on the grounds of their allegedly insufficient patriotism or lack of skill.

"Don't ever ask me about" so-and-so, Hayrapetyan would tell journalists, when asked about a particular Armenian player he would not be recruiting. This same attitude left Armenia with an untested (and also vertically challenged) substitute goalkeeper after Berezovski was sent off in a crucial match against Ireland in 2011.

Even more obviously woeful has been FFA planning for friendlies that are expected to prepare Armenia for the qualification matches. In preparation for the match with the Czech Republic, Armenia was scheduled to play with two football minnows Luxembourg in February and Turkmenistan in March. The latter match got cancelled due to re-scheduling in the Asian qualification tournaments, leaving Armenia to play against its own under-21 team. And the Luxembourg match was played on an awful quality pitch in the middle-of-nowhere French town that lacked television coverage.

Last year, FFA scheduled two matches in two days, effectively leaving the secondary roster to play against Serbia, with the main team playing Canada the following day.

A way forward

Whatever may be his sins elsewhere, Hayrapetyan does deserve recognition for his role in Armenian football, particularly for the development of FC Pyunik, which he founded in 1992 and that helped produce players like Mkhitaryan, Mkrtchyan, Manucharyan, Ghazaryan and others, as well as the building of the Avan sports academy, which opened in 2010. But after more than a decade of Hayrapetyan as head of FFA, it is time for a change.

Thankfully, Hayrapetyan is not the only one to have generously contributed to the development of Armenian football. The most attractive replacement is probably Oleg Mkrtchyan, a billionaire businessman who is the chief sponsor for Russia's FC Kuban (with Ozbilis and Pizelli), Ukraine's FC Metallurg (with Mkrtchyan and Ghazaryan) and Armenia's FC Banants. Mkrtchyan has also helped Armenia's team get around on his personal jet and has been a frequent guest of the Armenian president's VIP lodge during Armenia's home matches.

Perhaps even more urgently, there is a need for a new coach. When Minasyan was appointed in late 2009 at a tender age of 35, his CV included just three years as Armenia's assistant coach that came just a few years after he himself retired as a football player. The appointment most likely reflected not Minasyan's exceptional skills, but Hayrapetyan's exasperation with searching for a coach abroad. Between 2002 and 2009, Armenia saw eight head coaches come and go, almost none remained for more than a year. The timing of Minasyan's appointment coincided with the rise of Movsisyan and Mkhitaryan, the two key players that made Armenia's string of successes in 2010 and 2011 possible, and helped Minasyan look better than any of his predecessors, at least for a while.

Prior to appointing Minasyan, FFA did reach out to the most successful active coach of Armenian descent, the Uruguay-born Sergio Markarian. In an interview, Markarian said he declined because the offer combined his coaching of the national team with one of Armenia football clubs, presumably FC Pyunik. (Incidentally Minasyan has been coaching both through most of his national team tenure.)

After several successful spells on the club level in South America, the 68-year-old Markarian has since 2010 coached and much improved the Peruvian national team. In 2009, Markarian appeared interested in coaching Armenia. Perhaps, it is time to give him another call.

May 27, 2013
Armenian Reporter
Armenian footballers are top scorers in Ukraine, Russia championships
by Emil Sanamyan

Several leading players of the Armenian national football team have successfully concluded seasons for their clubs in Ukraine and Russia.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s season has been particularly spectacular.  With 25 goals in 29 league matches for Ukraine champions Shakhtar Donetsk, Mkhitaryan set the new goal-scoring record in the twenty years of independent Ukrainian championships. He scored two more goals for his team in the UEFA Champions’ League and the Cup of Ukraine, for a total of 29 goals for the season.

Playing against leading European teams such as Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea and Juventus in the Champions’ League, the 24-year-old Mkhitaryan reportedly caught the attention of several clubs, including the illustrious but currently struggling English FC Liverpool; however, no firms offers have been made public. Mkhitaryan’s contract with FC Shakhter is until 2015 and his transfer value is estimated at over $20 million, an amount that only a limited number of clubs can afford.

After transferring mid-season from FC Krasnodar to FC Spartak Moskva, Yura Movsisyan managed to remain one of two top goal scorers in the Russian Premiere League with 13 goals in just 18 appearances for the season. Two injuries, in the fall of last year and again in the spring, kept Movsisyan out of 12 league matches. Spartak’s fourth place qualified it for the UEFA Europa League next season.

Also qualifying for Europa League was FC Kuban that came fifth in the Russian championship and where Aras Ozbiliz had been widely recognized as the best-performing player with nine goals and four assists in 22 appearances. There were reports of interest by top Russian clubs in buying Ozbiliz’s transfer, but no concrete transfer news.

Kuban’s other Armenian player Marcos Pizzelli scored five goals and made six assists in 21 appearances, but having lost a spot on the team’s main squad towards the end of the season, Pizzelli this week transferred to Movsisyan’s former team, tenth-placed FC Krasnodar. “Fans of the Armenian national team, come back!” twitted Krasnodar’s owner Sergey Galitsky after the news of the deal.

Veteran goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky has re-signed as the seventh-placed Dynamo Moskva’s back-up for another year. Berezovsky allowed seven goals in as many matches for the team, but has remained on the bench for the last ten seasons after Dynamo’s main goalkeeper recovered from an injury.

In his first Premiere League season for FC Volga Nizhny Novgorod, Artur Sarkisov scored three goals in 18 appearances, most of them as a substitute; Volga placed twelfth.

The season has been largely disappointing for Gevorg Ghazaryan and Karlen Mkrtchyan of Ukraine’s Metallurg Donetsk, which placed a respectable fifth and again qualified for the Europa League. After a good start and three goals in the season’s initial stage, Ghazaryan lost his spot on the main squad and had been unable to improve his tally. Mkrtchyan remains on Metallurg’s main squad, but played only 16 matches this season after two disqualifications and an injury.

This week, national team players began arriving in Yerevan ahead of back-to-back World Cup qualification matches: at home against Malta on June 7 and away against Denmark on June 11.

The team’s management appeared in a state of flux, as the football federation refused to accept the resignation of coach Vardan Minasyan following a debilitating home loss to the Czechs in March.

Armenian Reporter
June 21, 2013

Yura Movsisyan: Armenia will only improve with time and experience

Following an outstanding performance with two goals in 0-4 victory over Denmark on June 11, Armenia’s Yura Movsisyan responds to the Armenian Reporter‘s questions via Facebook:

Q. Have you played at that Copenhagen stadium before, while you were in the Danish league and have you scored there before?

A. Yes I have played there before with Randers FC but I didn’t get to score. But that never played a role in my thinking because every game is a new game.

Q. Is this the fastest goal of your career? And do you think it proved decisive for the outcome?

A. Yes it was definitely the fastest goal of my career and it was for sure a very decisive goal for us because it gave us an advantage in which we knew Denmark had to play more open and direct.

Q. This is the third time in two years that Armenia wins with four goals, and in each case you were the author or you assisted in the first goal. Do your goals tend to spur others on the team to action?

A. I believe that the whole team depends on the strikers to score the goals and that’s why I think it is great when I score the first goal then it takes pressure off the whole team.

Q. Despite the score, Armenia continues to give up the ball a lot and not much progress can be seen compared to two years ago. How and when could this be improved?

A. This is still a young team with young players. For many of the players each game is the biggest game in their life so for them to be nervous is very normal. This is the reason you have players with experience so when things do not go according to plan you can have them step up and help the others out. This will only improve with time and experience.

Armenian Reporter
Henrikh Mkhitaryan seals record-setting $35mln transfer to German club
Armenian Reporter July 9, 2013
by Emil Sanamyan Washington - The Armenian national football team's top goal-scorer Henrikh Mkhitaryan has transferred to Borussia Dortmund, the Champions League finalists.

Armenian Reporter
Armenia in Brazil? Not one miracle but five
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Friday October 11, 2013

Washington - Armenia's national football team finally delivered on its home field, beating Bulgaria 2-1 in an intense match played in Yerevan on October 11 and thus maintained a slim chance of qualification for the 2014 World Cup to be played in Brazil.

Like two years ago in its Euro 2012 campaign, Armenia's qualification chances hinge on a win in its final match played away - but this time instead of Ireland it will be Italy, currently ranked fourth in the world and third in Europe. That match will be played next Tuesday, October 14 in Naples.

If that was not a steep enough mountain to conquer, Armenia would also need its Group competitors to lose points: unless Denmark doesn't draw or lose to Malta, and the Bulgarians and the Czechs don't draw among themselves, Armenia will be left out of the second spot, with Italy already guaranteed the first.

But even taking the second spot will not be enough. Of the nine second spot finishers only eight best group performers will be going into playoffs. Here Armenia's qualification would depend on both Turkey's failure to beat the Netherlands and Romania's failure to best Estonia or, alternatively, on Croatia losing to Scotland.

And then there are the playoffs, where Armenia would have to contend with teams such as Croatia (no. 10 in the world), Portugal (no. 11), Greece (no. 12), Bosnia (no. 18) or, if Armenians get really lucky, Sweden (no. 22).

So, as things stand, on its way to Brazil, Armenia will need not one but five full miracles.

Revenge in Yerevan

Armenia would not be facing such long odds had it enjoyed greater stability in play and a longer bench of quality substitutes.

The home losses to Malta (0-1) and Denmark (0-1) were particularly costly and they both came in the absence of forward Yura Movsisyan - for the first half in the Malta match and over yellow card disqualification vs. Denmark. When Movsisyan played Armenia dominated Denmark 0-4 in an away match last June and snatched a last-minute 1-2 victory from the Czechs last September.

But the first sign of a troubled campaign came already a year ago after the 0-1 away loss to Bulgaria. In that match Armenia also lost two players to red cards and one to a long-term injury in what Armenians universally considered a "dirty" performance by the hosts bent on stifling Armenia's offensive prowess by all means possible. The pitch antiques came after an unusual performance at the airport, where the Armenian team was met by a scantily clad model handing out candy.

When it came time for the Bulgarian team to arrive in Yerevan, it was met at the airport by angry taunts from Armenian fans. At the stadium, a huge banner unfurled by fans announced that "Justice will be restored in Yerevan." To make sure prophesy would hit home, the banner carried a likeness of the late celebrity Bulgarian fortune teller Baba Vanga. The trick appears to have worked.

Just before the half, a fine play by Aras Ozbilis got one of the Bulgarian players red-carded and the Istanbul-born midfielder then beautifully converted a free kick. Man down, Bulgaria equalized from a free kick it took at one-hour mark, but then lost a second player to another red card some minutes later. On 87th minute Henrikh Mkhitaryan's pass found Movsisyan, who beat Bulgarian defense and threw Armenia fans into wild jubilation.