Armenia says Turkish aircraft shot down one of its fighter jets in a major escalation of the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region Disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said that the captain of the Soviet-made “Su-25” plane died after it hit a Turkish “F-16” plane in Armenian airspace.
Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan in the conflict, denied this claim.
About 100 people, including civilians, were killed during three days of fighting over the disputed mountainous region.
This enclave is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but Armenians have run it since a war that lasted between 1988 and 1994 between the two former Soviet republics.
Azerbaijan has said repeatedly that its air force does not include F-16 fighter jets. However, Turkey owns these aircraft.
The fighting that began three days ago now appears to extend beyond Nagorno-Karabakh, as Armenia and Azerbaijan traded accusations of direct fire on their soil.
The two countries also exchange accusations of starting the fighting.
While Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan, Russia – which has a military base in Armenia but is also friendly to Azerbaijan – has called for an immediate ceasefire.
What happened to the plane?
A spokeswoman for the Armenian Defense Ministry, Shushan Stepanyan, said that the Armenian plane “Su-25” was shot down on Tuesday morning and that the pilot “died heroically”.
She said, in a post on Facebook, that the Turkish F-16 aircraft penetrated 60 kilometers into Armenian airspace.
Turkey immediately denied the claim, describing it as “totally false.”
Fakhreddin Altun, aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said, “Armenia should withdraw from the lands under its occupation instead of resorting to cheap propaganda tricks.”
No physical evidence of the crash was announced. Azerbaijan called on Armenia to provide evidence.
What is the latest news from the battlefield?
Earlier on Tuesday, both Armenia and Azerbaijan said heavy fighting continued overnight in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The authorities of the area, which no one has recognized, said that 87 of its members had been killed and 120 wounded since the fighting began on Sunday, according to the Armenpress news agency.
The same authorities estimated the death toll on the Azerbaijani side at around 400, saying that one plane, four helicopters and a number of tanks had been destroyed.
Azerbaijan has not released any numbers on military losses, but says that 12 civilians were killed by Armenian fire.
News agencies quoted the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense as saying that the Armenian forces repeatedly tried and failed to regain lost sites in the regions of Fuzuli-Gabriel and Agdera-Tartre.
The ministry said that a column of Armenian armored vehicles and other combat vehicles were destroyed, adding that the enemy suffered heavy losses.
The claims made by Armenia and Azerbaijan regarding the victims have not been independently verified.
What are the chances of a ceasefire?
Chances of a ceasefire at the present time appear to be slim.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Russian media that the atmosphere is not suitable for talks in light of the continuing military operations.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who also spoke to the Russian media, ruled out any talks due to Armenias current position.
Russia holds the key
analyzing: Emre Temel – BBC Turkish
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan have always been strong. When fighting broke out around Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday, Turkey immediately offered its support “in the field and at the negotiating table,” in the words of its foreign minister.
The two countries share history, language and heritage, and their leaders often refer to “one nation, two states”. Turkey’s border with Armenia has been closed since 1993 as a gesture of support to Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
President Erdoan pledged to stand by Azerbaijan “with all its heart and resources.” But it is still not known whether Turkey has supplied military experts, drones and warplanes to Azerbaijan, as Armenia claims.
However, it is Russia, not Turkey, that holds the key to the region. It has a joint defense agreement with Armenia and a military base on Armenian territory. Turkey is already at odds with Russia over Syria and Libya, and the Caucasus could open a new front.
Standing against Russia could be a great risk to Turkey, economically and militarily. Russia is Turkey’s main energy supplier and major trading partner.
Nagorno-Karabakh – basic facts
- A mountainous area with an area of about 4,400 square kilometers.
- It is traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks.
- In Soviet times, it became an autonomous region within the Republic of Azerbaijan.
- It is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the majority of the population is of Armenian origin.
- The authorities of the region are not recognized by any member of the United Nations, including Armenia itself.
- An estimated one million people were displaced by the war between 1988-1994, and nearly 30,000 people were killed.
- Separatist forces have captured some additional territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan.
- The deadlock has largely prevailed since the 1994 ceasefire.
- Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan.
- Russia has a military base in Armenia.
What is the background?
In 1988, near the end of Soviet rule, Azerbaijani forces and Armenian separatists began a bloody war that left Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenian hands upon signing a truce in 1994.
Tens of thousands were killed in the fighting, and many Azerbaijanis were forced to flee their homes.
It is now a de facto independent region, which is highly dependent on support from Armenia. But it is not recognized by any member of the United Nations, including Armenia.
Also, large swaths of Azerbaijani lands around the enclave are under Armenian control.
The negotiations have failed so far to reach a permanent peace agreement, and the conflict in the region is still one of the “frozen conflicts” in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Karabakh is the Russian translation of the Azerbaijani word meaning “black garden”, while Nagorno is a Russian word meaning “mountainous”. Armenians prefer to call the region Artsakh, which is an ancient Armenian name for the region.
Over the years both sides have killed soldiers in separate ceasefire violations. The landlocked country, Armenia, has suffered severe economic problems due to the closure of the borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Russia, France and the United States co-chair the Minsk Group, which is affiliated with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The group is trying to mediate an end to the dispute.