Founded by a former US Special Forces veteran, The Phoenix School of Bravery is one small private military organisation that trains Armenians, including teenagers and children.

Although last year’s war with Azerbaijan resulted in a defeat for Armenia, only a few Armenians believe that it will be the last conflict with their neighbouring country.

One of those believers is Aram (not his actual name), a United States Air Force veteran of Lebanese-Armenian descent.

According to the Washington Examiner, this former US Special Forces veteran is now seeking to make sure that Armenia is prepared for the next war by organising armed training for children, teenagers and young men in Armash, an Armenian village just a few kilometres away from the border with Azerbaijan.

Aram served in the US Air Force as a special forces officer for 13 years and was appointed to missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Central Africa, and many other places. When the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia broke out on September 27 last year, he flew into Yerevan to deploy with a volunteer unit in southern Karabakh.

While there, he wasn’t pleased with what he saw as Armenia was repulsed with Azerbaijani assaults. Thus, he adopted a purpose to raise well-equipped fighters for future wars against Azerbaijan.

“Most of the military personnel and volunteers had no idea how to fight,” said Aram.

“They had no information about the enemy, nothing. Even the generals were fighting a war from the 1950s.”

During the conflict, Aram served with a unit in one of the most challenging fields, Karmir Shuka, also known as the Red Bazaar. But since he realised the unit was untrained, a defeat was inevitable amid the intense combat.

This file photo from December 20, 2020 shows an Azerbaijani tank along a highway, after the transfer of Kalbajar region to Azerbaijan's control, as part of a November peace deal that required Armenian forces to cede Azerbaijani territories they held outside Nagorno-Karabakh, near Kalbajar, Azerbaijan.

This file photo from December 20, 2020 shows an Azerbaijani tank along a highway, after the transfer of Kalbajar region to Azerbaijan’s control, as part of a November peace deal that required Armenian forces to cede Azerbaijani territories they held outside Nagorno-Karabakh, near Kalbajar, Azerbaijan.
(AP)

“We had good positions to defend, but we lost about 3 kilometres because we didn’t have support — no artillery, no airstrikes,” he said.

Those three kilometres became a game-changer in favour of Azerbaijan since it paved the way for its great advance on Sushi, the strategic city centred in Karabakh. Later on, Sushi signified the Armenian defeat.

“Knowing that these people [in my unit] were almost untrained, I couldn’t put them on the sort of special operations tactics that would be required to retake that territory.”

During this period, Aram met his fellow instructors that would later become part of the Phoenix School of Bravery, a private military organisation that was founded by himself.

The paramilitary organisation was established in January and by April, they were already on their second group of trainees as the first group had completed its three-month crash course. Aram stated that they train around 40 at a time at their Yerevan facilities.

In the near future, Aram plans to teach defensive tactics, strategies and warfare operations to villagers such that, if needed, they can employ themselves during a war.

“We’ll train the villages here first, and then move down to the south. Each village next to each other forms a chain, and we make sure that it’s an unbreakable chain.”

Making of militia groups

Phoenix has become an initiative that gained the appreciation of the border villages such as Armash. Now, locals are joining the paramilitary organisation in an attempt to defend themselves due to the fear of the army’s inefficacy in future. The organisation gets support from the city’s mayor as Aram and the others set up their daily plans in the mayor’s office.

“We approached [Phoenix] for training because we’re so close to the enemy,” said village mayor Hakob Zeynalyan.

The people who join Phoenix vary from their mid-40s down to their early teens, and a few even younger. For instance, 12-year-old Amalya is the youngest trainee who is learning first-aid practices.

Armenian soldiers gather at their fighting positions on the front line during a military conflict against Azerbaijan's armed forces in occupied Karabakh, October 20, 2020.

Armenian soldiers gather at their fighting positions on the front line during a military conflict against Azerbaijan’s armed forces in occupied Karabakh, October 20, 2020.
(Reuters)

Generally, trainers head towards a nearby hillside and reach the trenches for practice-oriented training. The tactical training they receive changes from time to time.

“We’re going to be practising something called the echelon tactic,” Raffi said, one of Aram’s fellow instructors.

“It’s a small-unit tactic, aimed at covering ground quickly while maintaining a large field of fire. It’s common among NATO and Israeli forces.”

Along with much tactical training like this, Aram thinks that strategies should be developed for modern warfare techniques. He realised the necessity of conducting training in this direction after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict experience.

The most important of modern battlefield tactics presumably includes strategy development against Azerbaijan’s high-tech armaments.

In this regard, Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar UAVs are considered the most destructive weapon in Azerbaijan’s stockpile, which destroyed over 100 Armenian tanks alone during the conflict.

“On the very first day, they destroyed our air defence systems,” said Tigran Matevosyan, a veteran of the recent war. “After that, it was just rifles against Bayraktars.”

Bayraktar TB2 armed unmanned aerial vehicles, stationed at Naval Air Base Command in Turkey's Aegean district of Dalaman, lands in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Bayraktar TB2 armed unmanned aerial vehicles, stationed at Naval Air Base Command in Turkey’s Aegean district of Dalaman, lands in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
(Muhammed Enes Yildirim / AA)

Matevosyan also highlighted the necessity of taking exercises against this threat by avoiding moving as a group, ”If this war taught us anything, it’s to stay spread out” he said.

”The entire war, people were always in groups of 50 or 60.”

Aram desires to train over 2,000-3,000 locals a year, as well as part of the Armenian army’s special forces. In this way, he aspires to be prepared for the next war and have an advantage.

Armenian teenagers like Hayk and Armen, both 17, continue to participate in this organisation as volunteers with the same desire.

“We want to be ready when the next war comes,” said Hayk when asked about his motivation for attending the course. While Armen added, “As long as [Azeris] are our neighbours, there’ll be war.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies



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