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Azerbaijan Military Personnel

Men between 18 and 35 are liable for military service. The length of service is 18 months and 12 months for university graduates; 17 years of age for voluntary service and 17 year olds are considered to be on active service at cadet military schools. Conscription is enshrined in Article 76 of the 1995 Constitution and is further regulated by the 1992 Law on the Armed Forces.

Draft evasion is widespread in Azerbaijan. Military service is unpopular as the armed forces are known for their poor conditions and human rights violations. Between 1994 and 2004 more than 5,000 soldiers reportedly died from bullying, accidents, disease and malnutrition.

Detailed figures on prosecution and imprisonment of draft evaders and deserters are hard to obtain. Available figures, however, suggest that draft evaders are prosecuted regularly. The Azerbaijan Ministry of Justice stated in 2002 that there were 2,611 draft evaders and deserters in prison. According to the UNHCR, draft evaders and deserters are prosecuted at random and proceedings often depend on individual commanders in charge.

The right to conscientious objection is enshrined in Article 76 of the 1995 Constitution. The Article reads (as amended in 2002): "If serving in the armed forces runs counter to a person's convictions, then active military service can be replaced by an alternative service done in the cases specified by law."

When Azerbaijan applied and was granted membership of the Council of Europe, it made an express commitment to "adopt, within two years of accession, a law on alternative service in compliance with European standards and, in the meantime, to pardon all conscientious objectors presently serving prison terms..." Although alternative service is recognized in the constitution, by 2011 there was no implementing legislation for this right.

As of 2007, of the former Soviet Caucasian republics, Azerbaijan had the most numerous Armed Forces: 95,000 personnel, including 85,000 in the Army, 8,000 in the Air Force and Air Defense Forces, and 2,000 in the Navy. Aside from the Armed Forces, Azerbaijan also has a National Guard (2,500 personnel), Interior Ministry Troops (12,000), and Border Guards (5,000).

During the late Soviet period, Azerbaijan had supplied as many as 60,000 conscripts per year to the Soviet armed forces. In August 1992, Elchibey announced projected personnel levels for the Azerbaijani armed forces. His projection called for a force of 30,000 troops by 1996, divided into ground units, air force and air defense units, and a navy. Half of this force would consist of conscripts, half of individuals serving under contract. In 1994 estimated total troop strength had reached 56,000, of which 49,000 were in the army, 3,000 in the navy, 2,000 in the air force, and 2,000 in the air defense forces.

In the pre-Soviet period, many Azerbaijanis graduated from Russian military academies, and Azerbaijani regiments of the imperial army were noted for their fighting skill. In the Soviet military system, however, Azerbaijanis were under-represented in the top ranks of the armed forces, despite the presence of the Higher All Arms Command School and the Caspian High Naval School in Azerbaijan. Many Azerbaijani conscripts were assigned to construction battalions, in which military training was minimal and the troops carried out noncombat duties. Pre-induction military training in most Azerbaijani secondary schools was also reportedly less stringent than in other Soviet republics. For these and other reasons, the Azerbaijanis were not prepared for long-term warfare in Nagorno-Karabakh when independence arrived.

According to training plans, officers would graduate from a revamped Combined Forces Command School (formerly the Baku Higher Arms Command School) and the Caspian High Naval School. The new Azerbaijani armed forces would rely almost exclusively on transferred or purchased Soviet equipment, although Azerbaijani machine industries have the capability to do some manufacturing and repairs. According to most Azerbaijani accounts, defense strategy for the near term was focused on territorial defense, the goals of which are defeating separatism in Nagorno-Karabakh and defending Azerbaijan's borders with Armenia.

Despite Elchibey's ambitious plan, in 1992 and 1993 Azerbaijan was forced to seek military assistance elsewhere. Reportedly, a group of American mercenary advisers arrived in Azerbaijan in 1992, and some Americans were believed still in the country in early 1994. Iranian, Russian, and Turkish officers also were training Azerbaijani forces in the early 1990s. In early 1993, Azerbaijan was able to field no more than a few thousand well-trained troops against Armenia, according to most accounts. In 1993 continued military defeats brought mass desertions.

To meet the need for troops, Azerbaijani authorities encouraged the organization and fielding of up to thirty paramilitary detachments, which in late 1993 were heavily criticized by Aliyev for their lack of military discipline. Aliyev reported to the legislature that these detachments were abandoning positions and weapons to the Armenians without an effort to defend them. About 1,000 former Afghan freedom fighters were hired in 1993, and volunteers from other Muslim countries also reportedly enlisted. In late 1993, the government began forced recruitment of teenagers, who were said to be used in human-wave attacks against Armenian positions.

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