Chief of Armenian intelligence services, Argishti Kyaramyan, was removed from duty on Thursday following the heavy losses than Armenia has thus far suffered in the ongoing fight against Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian sacked Kyaramyan upon the request of the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, according to a statement posted on the Armenian presidential website. Kyaramyan had held the position since June.

Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s armed forces are fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The two sides have been engaged in a war of words over this territory since the May 1994 ceasefire agreement. In the last conflict, the Armenians had inflicted heavy casualties on the Azerbaijani side thus securing de facto control of Karabakh and occupying a number of neighboring areas previously populated by Azerbaijanis.

Relations between the two former Soviet republics have been strained since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Yet, it is mainly governed by the Republic of Artsakh, which has an Armenian ethnic majority. Azerbaijan has not exercised political authority over the region since the advent of the Karabakh movement in 1988.

Since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994, representatives of the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been holding peace talks mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group.

The Minsk Group was formed in 1992 to find a peaceful solution to the issue. Besides negotiating the 1994 ceasefire, it has not been able to bring the two sides to any kind of agreement. 

The Armenian military, supported by Russia, was considered better trained, led, and equipped than Azerbaijan’s. It was expected that it would inflict heavy casualties on the Azerbaijanis and easily push them back again. But the conflict thus far has not played out this way.

Armenia has been utilizing the Soviet tactic of massing huge amounts of troops and armor against Azerbaijan. Thus, it was not ready for the heavy drone strikes that Azerbaijan unleashed. Using Turkish and Israeli drones, the Azerbaijani military has been able to spot large Armenian troop concentrations and bring deadly artillery and drone strikes against them. The Armenian forces are facing a situation they were ill-prepared for. Any kind of massed Armenian counterattacks were immediately hit before they could move into position. 

Azerbaijani men fighting as a guerrilla force have been able to blend into the civilian population. They have been hitting Armenian troops in the rear while calling in strikes against massed units. However, while Azerbaijan has captured some territory, the situation remains very much inconclusive. Azerbaijan has not been able to maintain its initiative. 

Many outside powers have urged for a ceasefire and commencement of dialogue. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has said that Turkey must be involved in the process to resolve the decades-long conflict. Russia and Iran are backing Armenia and are working to resolve the issue politically. 

Nevertheless, the situation has the potential to escalate. Besides drones, the Turkish military has also kept F-16s in Azerbaijan following a large exercise held earlier this summer. While the Turks claim that they are there only as a deterrent, Armenia claims that a Turkish F-16 shot down an Armenian SU-25 ground attack aircraft last week. Turkey has denied this. 

“The F-16s have been there as a deterrent against any Armenian attacks on civilian populations and military installations within Azerbaijan,” a military source said to the media.

The Russians aren’t remaining passive either. According to unconfirmed reports from the area, mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group were manning anti-tank positions. Wagner allows Moscow to have “plausible deniability” regarding its involvement in the conflict.

The removal of Armenia’s intelligence chief comes on the heels of a statement by the head of a six-member military alliance, which includes Russia and Armenia. The statement said that the bloc could intervene in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict if Azerbaijan threatens Armenia’s sovereignty.