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 - President Bako Sahakyan consults with NKR's 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. Levon Mnatsakanyan remained at work to watch the situation.

02:30 - At least three members of Azerbaijani special forces team killed, as they attacked a military post in Levonarkh/Madagis area, in the northeastern corner of Nagorno Karabakh; their bodies remained at the Armenian post.

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. Several thousand were eventually evacuated and no civilian deaths have been reported from Azerbaijani missile and artillery fire in this area.

03:00-04:00 Sargsyan, then Aliyev fly from Washington after international nuclear security summit. 

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 Azerbaijani Grad MLRS firing on Apr. 2 from south of Tartar. By morning, three Armenian military servicemen are killed by shelling targeting regimental headquarters in Madagis, others are wounded.  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 at frontline Armenian posts in Kazakhlar-Nuzger and Alkhanli-Fizuli areas in the south, as well as Gapanli/Seysulan-Shotlanli, Chailu-Madagis and Gulistan-Tonashen in the north. 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 some twelve Armenian posts, at least two of which were returned in Armenian counterattack in the morning of April 3.

06:00 - Azerbaijani forces capture five posts in Nuzger direction located on Lale Tepe hills; 19 Armenian servicemen are killed at posts #112 and #115 in this area, their bodies remained under Azerbaijani control. In Seysulan direction, three posts were reported overran, with 4 Armenian servicemen killed, but all recaptured by Armenian forces by 08:00; at least 18 Azerbaijani servicemen are killed in Seysulan area near post 116. 

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 Azerbaijani offensive operations with the use of tanks, artillery and combat helicopters 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 fighting.

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

10:25 Karabakh Defense Army reports Grad strike at 08:30, aiming at a military base near Martuni, killed a 12 year-old schoolboy and wounded two others; although Saturday, April 2 was a working and a school 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 losing a helicopter.

12:50 Karabakh Defense Army reports continued heavy fighting in Horadiz-Hadrut and Terter-Mardakert directions, publishes photos of dead Azerbaijani special forces personnel and of Israeli-made ThunderB UAV brought down nearly intact in northern NK, claims 2 Azerbaijani tanks hit by Armenian forces in the south and 1 in the north. Says 2nd Azerbaijani helicopter shot down in southeastern direction around 12:30. (On April 4 Bars Media Films talked to soldiers from the frontline post that 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 Azerbaijani 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 the Azerbaijani 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 Azerbaijani forces managed to capture Armenian frontline posts northeast of Talish. As far the ruins of Seysulan in Mardakert district located along the Line of Contact, the attack in this area was reversed by morning of April 2. The Defense Army acknowledged Azerbaijani control of Lale Tepe; a video report made on April 7 showed Armenian and Azerbaijani 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).
Azerbaijani 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 Azerbaijani officials on April 10. According to later reports three of 28 bodies of Armenian servicemen that were recovered were decapitated; bodies of nearly all other soldiers exchanged by Azerbaijan were otherwise mutilated.)

18:00 Azerbaijani forces capture post #170, northeast of Talish, with 4 Armenian servicemen defending it killed and others wounded. This post is recaptured by Armenian forces by 07:00 on April 3, with about a dozen Azerbaijani special forces personnel killed, including chief of staff of Special Forces command and brigade commander.

18:50 Photos are published of Azerbaijani special forces servicemen killed in Talish/Madagiz area; Karabakh defense army says that in addition to two helicopters throughout the day Azerbaijani forces lost 2 tanks and 2 UAVs in Mardakert direction and 2 tanks in southern direction; first video and photos of the Mi-24G helicopter wreckage are published at 20:50. Also, on April 2, an Armenian T-72 was hit and its crew of three killed in southern direction. 

Reservists and volunteers 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 in the worst violation of the cease-fire since 1994, but that the Armenian military has "taken the situation under its control."

19:35 Karabakh defense army publishes drone video and stills from over Seysulan frontline showing about twenty bodies lying along the frontline, as well as one apparently damaged tank (click for youtube link). According to information subsequently gathered, Azerbaijani forces lost at least 36 servicemen throughout April 2, including 19 in Seysulan area and most of the rest near Talish in the north and around Laletepe in the south. Armenian killed in action amounted to 35, 22 of them in the south.

Late on April 2, Azerbaijan television airs a national security council meeting with Ilham Aliyev congratulating the Azerbaijani people on the "great victory" achieved as a result of "crushing blow" delivered by his forces that day, "capturing more advantageous positions" along the Line of Contact. 

In the same meeting, defense minister Zakir Hassanov claims that Azerbaijani forces "captured villages of Talish and Seysulan" (which were not) and "heights in Horadiz direction" (which were). Hassanov also acknowledged [artillery] strikes against reserve Armenian forces in Agdere (Mardakert) and Matagis, claiming "huge Armenian losses."

April 3, Sunday

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

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

Midday: Journalists from Yerevan (CivilnetRFERLHetq168.amSputnik), Tbilisi (Rustavi2) and Moscow (RT, Meduza.ioKommersant) that arrived overnight in Stepanakert travel to Mardakert; some of them come under artillery fire and later return to Stepanakert. Meantime, other journalists departing Yerevan in morning of April 3 are stuck in a snowstorm in southern Armenia; with snow in the mountains, it is raining in much of Karabakh foothills, also restricting combat operations.

Google map of Talish area, showing sites of attacks on civilians (incident #1),
military truck (#2) and post 170 (#3) on April 2. Courtesy of NKR Ombudsman.
15:00 Yerevan photographers Hakob Poghosyan and German Avagyan joined a group of policemen from Mardakert going to Talish to evacuate remaining civilians there. In the evening Hetq.am publishes Poghosyan's photographs from Talish of an elderly couple and their elderly female relative killed and their bodies mutilated. The killings are believed to be the work of an Azerbaijani SF group that was in the area in the morning of April 2 and also ambushed an army supply truck killing its driver and accompanying military officer, decapitating them. Same group is likely to have attacked post #170 northwest of Talish later in the day. Both Avagyan - whose photos from Talish on April 3 are here - and Meduza.io 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, closest to the frontline. Italy's Sky TV interviewed Hakob Poghosyan about his photographs. Subsequent video reports, such as this one by Hetq.am, also showed bodies of Azerbaijani SF personnel killed near Armenian military post northwest of Talish.

16:25 Karabakh Defense Army dismissed Azerbaijani MoD's claims of unilateral cease-fire and says 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.

Azerbaijani MoD confirms three more of its soldiers killed; ANS TV shows footage of Azerbaijani 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

According to information subsequently gathered, throughout April, Armenian forces lost 7 servicemen and 1 volunteer, and Azerbaijani forces at least 11 servicemen, including two senior Special Forces officers. Most of that day's fatalities on both sides were in Talish area. In the south, another Armenia T-72 was hit by an anti-tank missile with a crew of there killed.

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 registered Azerbaijani Defense Ministry's Il-76 (AZAF8) transport plane arriving at Israeli military base and departing after several hours; the same Il-76 made 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. At 10:45 Karabakh Defense Army claims Armenian forces have "retaken the initiative in the fighting," claims 3 Azerbaijani tanks hit in the north and 2 in the south. As later reports revealed, throughout morning and mid-day of April 4 Armenian forces launched attacks, but were unable to retake a series of military posts captured by Azerbaijani forces northeast of Talish on April 2.

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 Azerbaijan has for the first time fired from Tos-1A MLRS reportedly in Talish area, but caused no significant damage; claims Armenian forces destroyed three attack drones. Harop drones were used to attack buildings and military and civilian vehicles in Talish-Madagis 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. 

In Yerevan, Serge Sargsyan meets with ambassadors from OSCE countries; notes that as a result of Azerbaijani attacks, including atrocities committed against elderly civilians, among them a 92-year-old woman, in Talish. Sargsyan also mentions "only a few minutes ago" the use by Azerbaijani forces of the Tos systems, recently sold to Azerbaijan by Russia. He calls for de-escalation and return to pre-April 2 positions, but acknowledges only "200-300 meter" advances by Azerbaijani forces. Later in the day, Armenian media carries two other reports with Sargsyan, on visit to military hospital in Erebuni and a church ceremony in central Yerevan, honoring soldiers killed in combat.

Azerbaijani sources claim that Israeli-produced Spike anti-tank guided missiles helped knock out a number of Armenian T-72s; photos subsequently confirmed use of Spike ATGMs.

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.

In the afternoon, Armenian forces observe Azerbaijani armor build up along the frontline in Agdam district. This video from Azerbaijani side shows at least 18 Az. tanks, 1 IFV and 1 armored recovery vehicle "moving towards Agdam." Armenian artillery opens fire on tanks and other Azerbaijani positions. 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. 

16:31 Russia's Life News claims some of the hundreds of Azerbaijani citizens fighting for ISIS were going from Syria to join the fight in Karabakh; the report followed the expulsion of the channel's crew from Azerbaijan and was not otherwise substantiated. The following day Azerbaijani government promised to arrest any ISIS members arriving in Azerbaijan.

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

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. Defense Army warns Azerbaijani 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 Haqqin.az - 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, and no evidence of Azerbaijani advance in this area is subsequently furnished.

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

According to information subsequently gathered, throughout April 4, 20 Armenian military personnel and 12 volunteers were killed in fighting, as were 41 Azerbaijani military personnel. Nearly all fatalities were in Talish area.

April 5, Tuesday
    
08:35: Karabakh Defense Army reports heavy artillery fire overnight, including first use of Smerch MLRS in southern direction; Armenian MoD reports that Tavush border villages came under fire.

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 Azerbaijani drone, likely an Orbiter 2M

12:53 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 generals Khachaturov and Sadykov met in Moscow and agreed to a 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; video report by RT. Reporters photograph Smerch munitions launched by Azerbaijani 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.

In Yerevan, President Sargsyan attends a funeral of an Armenian serviceman killed on combat. Later in the day, president's office reports that Sargsyan has departed Yerevan for a previously-schedule visit to Germany thru April 7.

Afternoon: After a 2-day media silence, Azerbaijani TV shows Aliyev is shown visiting a military hospital in Baku and later speaking to two dozen relatives of servicemen wounded in fighting; Aliyev says that a "crushing blow was delivered against the enemy," and that Azerbaijan is ready to cease fire. 

19:00 Karabakh Defense Army briefing reports Armenian side suffered 29 confirmed killed (with more than 20 others missing), 101 wounded and 14 tanks lost; estimates Az. side's losses at 24 tanks, 5 IFVs, 2 helicopters, 1 Grad system, 12 UAVs.

Throughout April 5, two Armenian and three Azerbaijani servicemen are reported killed by hostile fire.

April 6, Wednesday

While the cease-fire held generally, a media group visiting Talish heard some shelling in the area. Later in the day, the Karabakh defense ministry reported deaths of two volunteers that day, one near Talish and another in the southeast. Additionally, a medical emergency vehicle was reportedly fired upon by an Azerbaijani tank near LoC as it was in the area to collect bodies of tank crew killed days earlier.

22:45 An Armenian ZSU-23-4 AA self-propelled gun reportedly brought down another Harop suicide drone; this Harop's warhead was later reported destroyed by Karabakh branch of HALO Trust.

April 7, Thursday

On April 7 first lady Mehriban Aliyeva is shown meeting with more than 100 female relatives of soldiers killed in combat; the press release acknowledges only 31 Azerbaijani servicemen killed.

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

10PM: Shooting and explosions reported in Stepanakert as an Azerbaijani drone was reportedly brought down on city outskirts. According to NK military sources, this was the first recorded attempt by Azerbaijan to dispatch a UAV to over Stepanakert, some 40km from the LoC, and coincided with the OSCE Minsk Group diplomats' visit.

April 8-10, Friday-Sunday

Sides agreed to exchange bodies of soldiers killed in action and left on the battlefield or captured 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 up 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.

Casualties

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, Azadliq.info and Razm.info 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, but is likely higher. At least 42 of those identified were special forces personnel, including chief of staff, chief of operations and chief of intelligence for the Special Forces Command and a special forces brigade commander.

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