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    Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia: A Situational Assessment

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    ASALA was an Armenian terrorist group which orchestrated bombings against Turkish and Azeri diplomats. As of 2022, ASALA is thought to be largely defunct. Nevertheless, many of its former members live openly today and it remains a sensitive subject in Azerbaijan and Turkey. There are reports of former ASALA members participating in fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, there is scant evidence to suggest that ASALA has or will see a resurgence of large scale activity. Nonetheless, Armenia’s set backs in the conflict suggest that ethnonationalist terror groups might become prevalent in the next 12 months.

    KJ-1: It is highly likely that Azeri irredentist policies will continue to generate a hostile political climate in Armenia.

    • Azerbaijan gained the upper hand in the conflict in 2020 after deploying unique and innovative military tactics against entrenched Armenian positions [source].
    • Azerbaijan reclaimed territory lost in the 1992 war and could potentially cut off Armenia’s land border with Iran if Baku decides to press further territorial claims in Nagorno-Karabakh [source].
    • There is a large Azeri minority in northern Iran. The government of Azerbaijan supports independence claims of Iranian Azeri’s [source].
    • Moreover, Armenia invested heavily in power transmission lines and trade infrastructure on the Iranian border. It is also believed that Iran and Armenia have a long standing relationship in regards to arms trafficking [source].
    • Iran explicitly stated that it will support Armenia if the shared land border is cut-off by Azerbaijan [source].
    • In a sign of further solidarity against Azerbaijan, Iran opened a consulate in Kapan [source].
    • Iran historically sponsors terror groups to achieve a political aim. The Houthi’s in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine and Shia militias in Syria and Iraq are all prime examples [source].
    • Highlighting the rising tensions between Baku and Tehran, Iran accused Azerbaijan of sponsoring the October 26th terror attack in Shiraz which left 15 dead [source].
    • The Armenian public is largely dissatisfied with the performance of Russian and CSTO intervention in the country [source].
    • Protests erupted in the last few months over Russian failures to prevent Azerbaijan’s seizure of additional territory [source].
    • The most recent protests in Yerevan this month reflected a great deal of animosity over the Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine [source].
    • Russia did not intervene militarily on behalf of Armenia by citing loopholes in the legal framework of the CSTO treaty [source]. This in turn animated anti-Russian sentiments in the Armenian political apparatus. 

    KJ-2: There is a realistic probability that the political climate in Armenia will incentivize ethnonationalist terrorism.

    • Members of the Armenian government and diaspora refer to Azerbaijan’s campaigns as a policy of “genocide” [source, source].
    • Azerbaijan recently boycotted the Francophone summit in Tunisia due to “provocative” statements made by the Armenian delegation to the meeting [source].
    • The political opposition party in Armenia walked out of a session of the Armenian parliament over the government’s diplomatic overtures to Baku [source].
    • The Armenian Alliance opposition party was angered by the announcement that the government was considering a number of concessions prior to entering into peace negotiations [source].
    • There is widespread fear in the Armenian political opposition that any deal with Azerbaijan will result in an ethnic cleansing of Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh [source].
    • During the 1990’s, former ASALA and JCAG members left the groups to fight in the 1992 Nagorno-Karabakh War [source].
    • In January, a purported remnant of ASALA issued a statement condemning the peace process between Armenian and Azerbaijan [source, source].
    • There are several reports of former ASALA members involved in fighting Azerbaijan in the Second Karabakh war of 2020 [source].
    • The Turkish government alleges that ASALA was present in Armenian “occupied” areas of Nagorno-Karabakh [source].
    • ASALA reportedly is heavily connected to the Armenian intelligence and security services [source].

    An alleged image of an ASALA patch seen on the uniform of an Armenia fighter in the 2020 Second Karabakh War (sourced from https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/armenian-terrorist-organization-asala-calls-for-a-halt-in-peace-talks-2022-1-20-24/)

    KJ-3: ASALA and JCAG terror groups utilized wholly ineffective tactics, techniques and procedures, resulting in their eventual disintegration.

    • Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, Armenian terrorist groups actively carried out high profile attacks on government and civilian targets throughout Europe [source].
    • ASALA began mounting terror attacks on Armenians who had differing political agendas or views in the late 1980’s. To worsen that issue, ASALA’s leadership adopted heavy-handed tactics to deal with organizational internal matters [source].
    • Malignant internal practices, combined with the extortion of members of the Armenian diaspora for funds resulted in a loss of support among diaspora groups and loss of internal morale [source].
    • The botched 1983 bombing of Orly Airport resulted in an internal power struggle between separate factions. The premature detention at Orly, resultant from poor explosive management and engineering, further eroded popular support for ASALA among the Armenian diaspora [source].
    • Both ASALA and JCAG made a costly mistake of basing their respective headquarters in Beirut, rather than sovereign Armenian territory [source].
    A photo of ASALA members, reportedly taken near the ASALA HQ roughly 20km outside Beirut.
    • ASALA further associated itself with groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It is believed that ASALA’s founder, Hagop Hagopian, was a former member of the PFLP [source].
    • ASALA received arms and weapons training from these Palestinian groups in Lebanon [source].
    • The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 forced the Armenian terrorist groups to flee to Damascus and later to Athens, throwing its network into disarray and creating tensions between key members of leadership in the group [source].
    • The expulsion from Lebanon further deprived ASALA of the easy access to weapons and training by more experienced Palestinian groups as well as the benefit of a fixed base of operations [source].
    • ASALA and JCAG had differing political agendas, with one being a predominantly Marxist organization while the other was right leaning. These doctrinal differences prevented the two from working together in a substantive way which would have benefited both [source].
    • ASALA and JCAG engaged in a violent “street war” in Beirut for dominance over the Armenian population of the city, in turn weakening themselves through the conflict [source].

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date Friday 9 December

    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith is a graduate of the MSC International Relations program of the University of Aberdeen and holds an LLB in Global Law from Tilburg University. He works in the private sector in field investigations and security.

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