Azerbaijan, the South Caucasus’ largest country of over 10 million people, celebrates today the 105th year since the creation of the national army. Former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev established Armed Forces Day in 1998 as one of the public holidays marked across the country.
The Armed Forces of Azerbaijan were established in 1918 when the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) was founded after the fall of the Russian Empire. The newborn republic needed an army that would safeguard the country and its borders against external threats. The national army was established after ADR’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which ushered in a short-lived but independent state, calling and identifying armed forces as one of the pillars of national statehood.
On June 26, 1918, the ADR, considered the first democratic republic in the entire Muslim world, announced the creation of the national armed forces. Around 25,000 soldiers were recruited and the government allocated 24 percent of the state budget for military purposes. By August 1 of the same year, the newly established Military Ministry took over the armed forces. The first solemn parade of the national army took place in 1919.
In April 1920, the ADR was occupied by the Bolshevik forces, and Azerbaijan was later incorporated into the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan formed its independent national army once again.
The modern armed forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan comprise the Land Forces, the Air and Air Defense Forces, and the Navy. The National Guard, the State Border Service, and the Internal Troops of Azerbaijan are considered associated forces.
Global Firepower (GFP), a website that provides data on and ranks national militaries around the world, ranks the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan as the strongest in the South Caucasus region, which also includes Georgia and Armenia. In its 2023 data, GFP identifies Azerbaijan as the world’s 57th strongest military among 145 countries worldwide and the strongest in South Caucasus, while it ranks Georgia and Armenia at 85 and 94, respectively.
The government of Azerbaijan allocated 6.054 billion manats or more than $3.5 billion for defense and national security purposes in 2023, meaning one billion manats or $587 million more than in 2022.
“Today, we are developing our Armed Forces based on a unified program, and I am sure our Army will soon rise to a new level. I have already said this before, but I want to repeat that the Azerbaijani Army today is even more potent than the Army that showed heroism and professionalism during the war,” President Ilham Aliyev said during the presentation of the national flag to a special forces unit on June 23, 2023.
“All necessary measures will continue to strengthen our Army further. Azerbaijan's enemies know and see this, and they must. That is why any provocation against us does not go unanswered. Every provocation is met with a fitting response, be it military or political. Today, Azerbaijan is one of the countries that determine its destiny, does not and will not depend on anyone, makes its voice heard and pursues an independent policy. So, our country is an independent country in the true sense of the word because it is capable of conducting an independent policy, and it is primarily our military potential that gives us this power.”
In 2020, the Azerbaijani army fought a 44-day war with Armenia in the Karabakh (Garabagh) region – an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan. The Karabakh region was occupied by Armenia in a bloody war that took place between 1991 and 1994, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The latest outbreak of war in the region started on September 27, 2020, after Armenia’s forces deployed in the once-occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. The attacks triggered the Azerbaijani forces to take immediate counter-offensive measures for pushing back the assault.
The Azerbaijani Armed Forces used a variety of cutting-edge arms and technologies during the war, including Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones, and Israeli Harop and SkyStriker loitering munitions. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet of the Azerbaijani troops is said to have destroyed more than 200 pieces of armor and artillery systems of the Armenian forces during the war.
The war in the Karabakh region ended with a decisive victory claimed by the Azerbaijani army, which liberated more than 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. A tripartite statement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia ended hostilities on November 10, 2020. As part of the agreement, Armenia also returned three occupied districts – Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin to Azerbaijan by December 1, 2020.
During and after the war, President Aliyev revealed Azerbaijan’s intention to strengthen the national army based on the Turkish model but on a smaller scale. In October and November 2021, all-new Commando units of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces were launched in the liberated lands. The formation of the novel special forces units came as part of the upgrade of the national army in line with the Turkish military model. Before joining the army’s new “blue-beret” branch, the commando personnel have been through weeks-long “Commando preparation” courses in Türkiye.
Based on Global Firepower’s publicly available data, Azerbaijan's total military personnel consists of 65,000 active personnel, 15,000 paramilitary forces, and 300,000 reserve personnel. Its weapons systems and arsenal include 148 aircraft, 920 tanks, 29,312 vehicles, and 24 navy vessels. Modern assault and sniper rifles, machine guns, pistols, grenade launchers, anti-tank missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) procured from countries such as Israel, Russia, Türkiye, the U.S., Germany, and China are all stored in the arsenal of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces.