Karen Vrtanesyan: Catastrophe in Azat [EP214]

Posted on Monday, Jan 23, 2023 | Category: Armenia, Politics | Series: cog

Conversations on Groong - Jan 22, 2023

On January 19, 15 conscripts in the village of Azat, Armenia died in a fire that engulfed their temporary makeshift barracks.



  • Conditions in the Armenian Army
  • Information chaos following the incident
  • Beheading of the 2nd Army Corps

Episode 214 | Recorded: January 22, 2023

Show Notes

Some time between 00:30 and 1:00 am on January 19th a fire broke out in a temporary military barracks housing a company of sappers in the Armenian Army, in Gegharkunik province. The fire quickly spread and as a result 15 men died, and 3 who escaped were severely injured. Our condolences to the families and loved ones and to the entire Armenian nation on this tragic loss.

References Made During The Show


Catastrophe in Azat, Gegharkunik

The images released to the media show a shabby house in the Azat village, not what you’d expect for a military barracks. Various government representatives later explained that this house, which had one entrance and the windows had metal bars on them, was temporary and started being used as a barracks either after 2020, 2021 or September 2022 depending on whose account you want to trust.

That same morning, at the sitting of the government, Pashinyan, while admitting that the investigation is still ongoing, went ahead to confidently present the government’s official theory of how it happened. He said that the ranking officer of the unit had attempted to start the fire in the furnace using a 5L plastic canister of gasoline, which caught fire, causing the officer to instinctively throw the burning canister away from him and the entire room caught fire. Fifteen conscripts died and there were 3 survivors, including the captain of the unit, the one who allegedly started the fire.

Conditions in the Army

Many are shocked seeing the footage from the destroyed structure. Everything from the structure itself, to the lack of an emergency exit, lack of fire extinguishers or a fire suppression system, safety protocols, everything seems to be absent, the whole structure is completely dilapidated.

This was not a barracks, it was a hut!!


  • Is this indicative of how other Armenian soldiers spend their service? Are there no standards?

Karen, according to opposition MPs, the 2022 defense budget was not fulfilled by 54%.

  • First, is this an accurate number based on your own information?

Information Chaos

Karen, I know you frequently research how governments communicate and you have been vocal in the past that the Pashinyan administration is a master in shaping public debate through its communications.

We have two strange facts to bring up:

  • First fact: Pashinyan, very early on, presented a version of what happened, appearing to blame the event on a military officer who didn’t follow safety protocol and used gasoline to light fire. However, Pashinyan himself admitted that this is preliminary and there are other theories being investigated. A representative from the investigative committee also said on public TV that they are working on excluding other theories.
  • Second fact: Authorities at different times presented three different time frames as to when the house began to be used as barracks. Pashinyan said 2021. The investigative committee in its report said 2021, and Edmon Marukyan said that the village house started being used after the main barracks of this unit was taken over by Azerbaijan as a result of the September 2022 war.


  • How would you assess the public communications work of the government in relation to this tragedy?

Edmon Marukyan, who has the title of “Special Ambassador At Large”, went on public TV to say that the Armenian Army was in the process of procuring brand-new Italian made, prefabricated military cabins. The reason they were not here yet? He said it was because they opted to buy brand new ones, instead of used ones that had already been used in Afghanistan.

  • Why is Marukyan even speaking about this?
  • Does Armenia produce such huts? Why procure them externally?

Decapitation of the 2nd Corps or Facing Responsibility?

At the government session, Immediately hours after the fire, Pashinyan and Papikyan announced the firing of at least 8 officers, up to and including the commander of the 2nd Army Corps. Critics claim that this effectively beheads the entire leadership chain of the 2nd Army Corps.

At the same time, many people were calling for political responsibility, but no political leaders were sacked or punished.

  • We realize this is a sensitive topic and of course there is huge public pressure to act promptly, but can you say if this change debilitates the army 2nd corps?
    • If so, does it make sense to debilitate the army in such a disruptive, political move?
  • What do you think about General Garegin Petrosyan, the new commander of the 2nd Corps?
  • What do you think of the sacked commander, Major-General Vahram Grigoryan?


All right, that’s our show, we hope you found it useful. Please find us on Social Media and follow us everywhere you get your Armenian news, the links are in the show notes. Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. We’ll talk to you soon!


Karen Vrtanesyan

Karen Vrtanesyan

Karen Vrtanesyan is an expert on military and warfare strategies with a focus on Armenia and its neighboring region. He is the former coordinator of the website razm.info.


Asbed Bedrossian

Asbed Bedrossian

Asbed is founder of the Armenian News Network Groong and co-founder of the ANN/Groong podcast.

Hovik Manucharyan

Hovik Manucharyan

Hovik Manucharyan is an information security engineer who moved from Seattle to Armenia in 2022. He co-founded the ANN/Groong podcast in 2020 and has been a contributor to Groong News since the late 1990s.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by Hovik Manucharyan on the ANN/Groong podcast are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of his employer or any other organization.

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