In the beginning of 1992, Azerbaijani troops from the territory of Aghdam, accompanied by 10 tanks and armoured personnel carriers, attacked the Armenian village of Khramort and burned it to the ground. Stepanakert, the NKR capital and various Armenian villages were subjected to constant intensive shelling. On January 25-26, an Azerbaijani army battalion attacked the Karintak village of the Shushi district but was beaten back after two days’ fierce fighting. On January 31, Azerbaijan began an offensive along the entire border-line. 

The escalating military offensives operations left the NKR no choice but to organize and improve its own defence. Voluntary groups of Freedom Fighters were established throughout Artsakh. Headquarters of these self-defence forces were established in order to coordinate military operations. More than 10 companies and platoons comprising over 1000 people existed on the territory of Artsakh in the beginning of the year. They became one of the important steps on the way to creating a regular army.

The Freedom Fighters began operations of suppressing the fire bases from where Stepanakert and other settlements were being constantly shelled and fired on. The headquarters of the Azerbaijani OMON, located in the Krkzhan district (former Karkarashen) of Stepanakert, was taken out on the night of January 21-22, followed soon by those in the villages of Malibeyli and Ghushchilar, adjacent to the NKR capital. Nevertheless, from the firing points, located along the entire length of the Azerbaijani-Armenian border, long-range weapons operated, causing mass destruction and high casualty rates among the people.

The situation in Artsakh in the spring of1992. Source: Armenia: A Historical Atlas, by Robert H. Hewsen 

On February 24, the NKR Supreme Council Presidency issued a decree granting the armed formations a legal status and on bringing them under a united command. Serzh Sargsyan was appointed the Chairman of the Self-Defence Committee. 

One of the primary tasks of the Artsakh Self-Defense Forces was the removal and destruction of Azeri bridgehead at Khodjalu (now Ivanyan), an area where considerable manpower and military equipment was accumulated. In order to ensure efficient communication within Karabakh, it was crucial to reopen a corridor linking the area of Askeran with Stepanakert, and regain control of the republican airport, which was in Azeri hands. On February 25, the Artsakh Self-Defence Forces, taking up positions in western Khojalu, demanded that the Azeris leave the military base and allow civilians through the established humanitarian corridor. The Azeri military, using the villagers as a shield, resumed the bombardment of populated areas in the NKR.  When the villagers did leave, Azeri forces shot at the civilian columns as the latter approached Aghdam borders.


The actions of the Self-Defence Forces of Karabakh were imposed by Azerbaijan itself. Since the incorporation of NK in Azerbaijan the latter launched a long-term policy of forcing the Armenians out. Administrative divisions were aimed at isolating Armenian villages by newly founded Azeri settlements at strategic junctions, which controlled the roads between Armenian towns and villages. These Azeri settlements were then artificially made bigger by bringing in population from regions of Azerbaijan. The same applied to villages with mixed populations. During the conflict, this arrangement was used to cut off Artsakh from Armenia and Armenian settlements from one another, since even the main roads connecting Armenian towns and villages were often designed to pass through Azerbaijani settlements – bypassing Karabakh . Thus, a single armed Azerbaijani village became able to cut all access between entire districts. Not only were they blocking the roads, they gradually became launching pads for attacks against Armenian villages and strongholds from were artillery and big guns were fired at neighbouring Armenian villages. Armenians faced a dilemma: put up with the attacks and shelling and die of bullets, missiles and encroaching starvation, or destroy the strongholds. It is hardly possible to blame them for choosing the second option. Although it is somewhat difficult to describe the inhabitants of Azerbaijani settlements who raided neighbouring Armenian towns and villages and participated in kidnappings and killings as peaceful, the Self-Defence Forces were consistent in warning of their upcoming actions against any settlement. Loudspeakers warned of any imminent advance of the Karabakh forces and announced that a passage was left for civilians and others who chose not to engage in military actions. 

Khojalu, a formerly predominantly Armenian village   strategically located between Stepanakert and the NK airport, was a first target for forced change in demography and in the open stage of the confrontation between NK and Azerbaijan was quick to turn into a firing base against Stepanakert. When the Karabakh Self-Defence Forces made a natural choice to safeguard their capital, the population of Khojalu was informed of it a few days in advance. 

After the Azerbaijani population in Khojalu were finally allowed to leave the town following an initial decision of the leadership of Azerbaijan against the evacuation, some of them were shot on the outskirts of the town of Aghdam, which was far from any Armenian forces and was controlled by the National Front of Azerbaijan. That Azerbaijanis were shot far from Khojalu, near an Azerbaijani city was absurd, but a fact. Then president of Azerbaijan, A. Mutalibov confessed that “the corridor was established by the Armenians to let the civilian inhabitants through. Why should fire have been opened then?” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 2, 1992). The same was confirmed by various Azerbaijani officials, human rights champions and journalists (Arif Yunusof, human rights advocate, “… the offensive on Khojalu was not a surprise” “Ogoniok” Magazine, N 14-15, 1992, Elman Mamedov, the mayor of Khojalu: “We knew that the corridor was left for the exit of peaceful people” “Russkaya Misl” 03.03.1992, citation from “Bakinskie Rabochiy” newspaper). 

A. Mutalibov believed that this unprecedented criminal act was linked to the opposition, National Front of Azerbaijan’s efforts to remove him from office, thus placing the bloodshed on his shoulders. In his interview to “Novoye Vremia” (“New Time”) Magazine Moutalibov confirmed his statement which was made nine years before: “It was evident that some people had organized the shooting for shifting the power in Azerbaijan”(March 6, 2001). 

The instigators of the crime were unlucky that a Czech journalist, Yana Mazalova visited the site of the accident twice, on February 28 and March 2. On her second visit she testified that the corpses were profaned and disfigured between her two visits. The area was under the control of the National Front of Azerbaijan and Armenians had no access to it. As if this testimony was not enough, an Azerbaijani journalist, Chingiz Mustafaev, who had arrived from Baku to film the scene, came to the same conclusion of which he told the “D-Press” news agency in his interview. He also declared that he was planning to conduct an independent interview. He was advised to leave Aghdam. Mustafaev was later killed in unknown circumstances. 

It is a shame that the Azerbaijani governments since, have used this war incident for propaganda purposes and blamed Armenians in all earthly sins. Remembrance days for the “Khojalu genocide” are marked in different countries; and a campaign against Armenians is orchestrated. The campaign has however backfired as many falsifications were revealed. One example speaks for itself. A widely circulated photo of a woman weeping over the bodies of several children, allegedly killed at Khojalu, has been proven to be a photo of a Kurdish mother mourning over victims of an earthquake in Turkey in 1982. Other photos show rows of skeletons: bodies supposedly decayed to skeleton state in a few days. Photos of pogroms in the Balkans in 1999 and even of Soviet troops raiding an Armenian village in the Republic of Armenia (!) have been used by different sources as alleged illustrations of “Armenian atrocities.” Such falsifications are numerous and widely circulated by Azerbaijanis in media and at various events, are posted on official websites, published in books. Sadly, they play down the tragedy of human suffering and are highly immoral.

In early March the Azeri army undertook a wide-scaled offensive across the entire front line. The main attack was aimed at the Martakert, Askeran and Martuni districts. The offensive was halted in fierce battles. The rocket-artillery bombardment of the NKR capital and other settlements continued round the clock. April attacks along the entire front line and incessant bombardment of civilian targets revealed once again the true aim of Azerbaijani authorities, to annihilate the indigenous population and everything that was Armenian. Officers from the 23rd division (stationed in Kirovabad) of the 4th Soviet army were used in these operations.  The town of Shushi, towering above Stepanakert, was now the main source of the capital’s sustained bombardment. On May 7, the Azeri infantry and armour, backed with military ME-24 helicopters, embarked on an assault against the Karabakh defence positions in the southeast of Stepanakert.

Simultaneously on the same day, about 200 Grad rockets and other types of weapons were launched at the capital from Shushi hills and adjacent Azerbaijani points, causing many casualties and devastating destruction. Fire raged throughout the railway station and in apartment buildings throughout the town.

The command of the Self-Defence Forces decided to neutralize the strongholds of the enemy. In the morning of May 8, the Artsakh Self-Defence units led by Arkady Ter-Tadevossyan, launched a counter-offensive and took the Shushi-Lachin road under their control. By noon, the Azeri defence of Shushi from the north and south had been broken. As a result of fierce street battles, the Armenian troops occupied the central quarters of the town by evening. On May 9, Shushi was liberated entirely.  Taking of such an inaccessible stronghold has been considered impossible by military experts, and a true military feat, particularly given the significant surplus of manpower and ammunition that Azeris had in abundance.

Liberation of Shushi.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Photos by Hakob Berberyan.
Azeris desecrated the Holy Saviour (Ghazanchetsots) Church of Shushi and turned the surviving structures into an ammunition storehouse, knowing that Armenians would not attack their churches. 

May 9th is considered the day of formation of the NKR Defence Army and is celebrated as a public holiday. 

Currently Shushi is occupied, having fallen in the 2020 Azeri aggression.

In liberated Shushi. Photo by Hakob Berberyan.

Defending the Motherland

Defence Committee The Self-Defence Committee was created on March 26, 1992 as a temporary body of governance under the Council of Ministers of the NKR for the managing of the military sphere, according to Article 26 of the Law on the Council of Ministers, so that urgent measures for the security and defence of the Republic could be undertaken. Serzh Sargsyan was appointed its Chairman and developed its structure and statute. The Committee implemented the decisions of the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers and in 1992-93 planned and implemented urgent tasks such as consolidation of voluntary self-defence groups, acquisition of weapons and ammunition, addressed other logistical issues, created regular army structural units (battalions, divisions, etc), played an active role in planning and carrying out military operations. It also published the “Martakan Tertik” (Combat Paper) periodical. The Committee functioned till November 10, 1993 when the Defence Army was created by the order of the Chairman of the State Committee for Defence.

State Committee for Defence   An extraordinary supreme body of authority in the NKR, to which the powers of the executive branch, as well as powers of martial law were delegated during the NK liberation war. It was created on August 15, 1992 according to the “Law on the Foundations of the State Independence of the NKR”. Robert Kocharyan was appointed its chairman. The State Committee managed the works of utilizing the material and military capacity of the NKR, worked out the political and military strategy for the Self-Defence Forces, improved its structure, made appointments in the latter’s leadership, conducted the negotiations for establishing a ceasefire and for settling the conflict. 

The Defence Army was created by the order #323 of November 10, 1993 of the Chairman of the State Committee for Defence, in order to reform the existing Self-Defence Forces into a modern army with respective structure and functions. These forces had been formed by volunteers in different parts of the country and were given a formal status by the Supreme Soviet of NKR on February 24, 1992.

Formation of the Defence Army is considered to have had four stages:



The main task of this period was protecting the safety of settlements close to the borders. The task was carried out by volunteer groups created by the locals, who in grave situations received help from similar volunteer groups from cities. The groups had to be created in secrecy as they were against Soviet laws. Wide-scale aggression and deportations after the Operation “Ring” made it necessary to coordinate volunteer groups and the National Council created the underground Self-Defence Committee and Headquarters. After the forces of the Interior Ministry of the USSR withdrew from the region attacks on Armenians escalated. However, this was also a period a numerous victories and liberation of many settlements. On February 24, 1992 the Self-Defence Forces were given a formal status and put under a single command.



This period started with the liberation of Khojalu and the Stepanakert airport. Arkadi Ter-Tadevossyan (Commandos) was appointed Commander of the Artsakh Self-Defence Forces on March 4, 1992 by the Supreme Council which also created the Defence Council on the same day (headed by NK Supreme Soviet Chairman A. Mkrtchian). Defence Committee headed by S. Sargsyan was created by the Executive on March 26. Liberation of Shushi and Lachin were highlights of this period. May 9th later was called the Day of NK Army and became a public holiday.

14.08.1992 – March 1993 


Six defence districts were formed, their commanders and structure was determined, a reconstruction of structural units took place. To consolidate military, logistic and political capacities and use them more effectively, the State Committee for Defence was created on August 15, 1992, headed by Robert Kocharyan.  Samvel Babayan was appointed Commander of the Self-Defence Forces in October, 1992. A breakthrough on the battlegrounds came after these efforts. The volunteer groups of “Eagles-mahaparts” created V. Sargyan’s initiative significantly contributed to the improvement of the situation. The Defence Army was formally formed on November 10, 1993 and S. Babayan was appointed Defence Minister and Commander of the Army.

March 1993- May 1994


Commandment improved significantly, more capacities were created for the renovation of weaponry and armour and logistical support improved drastically. Advance of Azeri troops was stopped, anti-aircraft defence deprived the Azeri air force of the freedom to enter NK airspace. A buffer zone around NK was created.

The next mission for the Self-Defence Forces was to open the important road of Shushi-Lachin-Zabukh, remove the blockade, and restore normal daily life in the Republic. On May 18, the Karabakh Defence Forces entered Lachin (now Berdzor, Kashatagh region), thus ending the three-year blockade. On May 20, hundreds of tons of humanitarian cargo – food, medicines, and other top priority goods were delivered to Stepanakert via the Goris-Stepanakert road through the Lachin corridor. After the Shushi-Lachin operation, the tension in the conflict area was reduced considerably. 

Azeris were preparing for a wide-scale military operation and on June 12, the Azerbaijani troops waged an offensive in the north-eastern, eastern and south-eastern sectors of the front. Practically, the whole Azerbaijani military force was deployed along the 120 kilometres stage of operations. A large number of Russian-made tanks, armoured personnel carriers, infantry vehicles, and artillery, were deployed. 

In addition, the forces of the former 4th Army stationed in NKR were engaged. With the help of armoured equipment, Grad (BM-21) multiple rocket launchers, and aircraft, the Azeris were able to occupy the entire Shahumyan region, and parts of the Martakert and Askeran districts. As a result of the offensive, the Azerbaijani national army destroyed and burned scores of villages, forcing forty thousand inhabitants of the Republic into refugee status. Taking into account the dire situation, the NKR Supreme Soviet announced that the Republic was in a state of emergency. Partial mobilization covering sergeants, the reserve, conscripts from the age of 18 to 40, officers up to 50 years old, and women having special training, was conducted.

The situation in Artsakh in the summer of1992. Source: Armenia: A Historical Atlas, by Robert H. Hewsen 

In the first days of June, the Azerbaijani army, expanding its offensive in several directions, occupied the regional centre of Martakert and a number of villages in the region. With 40% of its territory occupied by Azerbaijani troops, Artsakh was in very real danger. 

To maintain the pace of the military campaign, on August 11 the President of Azerbaijan issued a decree on conscription for military service of all those demobilized from the army in 1991-1992, as well as a prolongation of tenure for those who were still serving in the armed forces. On August 12, the NKR Supreme Soviet Presidium declared martial law. On August 15, the State Committee of Defence was established and was granted absolute executive and legislative powers.  Headed by Robert Kocharyan, it mobilized all the manpower and material resources of the Republic, and prepared enterprises, establishments, and organizations for war. The consolidation of all autonomous self-defence forces into a united army under a single commander was the next priority. 

Meanwhile, heavy battles continued in different areas of the front. In August the Azerbaijani air force continued bombing civilian targets, now with 500-kilogramme bombs, dropping them on Stepanakert and surrounding villages.  During “ordinary” bombardment people would seek refuge in basements or specially dug trenches. When 500-kg bombs were dropped, finding shelter made no sense. They destroyed the strongest shelters, the only hope was luck. Very soon cluster bombs, banned for use against civilians under international conventions, were being dropped on Stepanakert. Other banned types of ammunition, such as dart-like bullets used to maximize damage to human tissue, were also applied.  The villages of the Martuni, Martakert and Askeran districts came under aerial bombardment as well. The killing was indiscriminate. 150 pupils in the village of Talish survived only because their headmaster heard about the imminent air raid on Azeri radio and managed to warn the children. The school building was flattened soon afterwards. 

During the last days of October, the Azerbaijani troops made two attempts to cut off the Lachin humanitarian corridor, but were stopped and thrown back. On October 19, the Karabakh forces started a counter-offensive to the south of the corridor and proceeded until they reached the borders of the Kubatly district. 

On November 1992, the NKR Army launched a counter-offensive and took the Tartar-Martakert-Kelbajar (Karvachar) road under its control. Fierce month-long fighting ensued along the entire length of the Martakert front. The end of 1992 was marked by the abatement of hostilities along the entire length of the front. 

Guerrilla warfare continued in the entirely occupied Shahumyan region.