Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency confirmed the arrival Turkish F-16 fighter jets on Friday to Azerbaijan for joint military drills, aiding a nation that threatened to bomb a nuclear power plant this month.
Azerbaijan is currently embroiled in a heightened tension situation with its neighbor and longtime rival Armenia. Both have disputed the Nagorno-Karabakh border territory, legally under Azerbaijani command but claimed by Armenia because the population there is ethnically Armenian, for years. The current tensions follow a military skirmish elsewhere on the border, in the Tavush region, that occurred in early April, leaving 16 dead soldiers on both sides.
It remains unclear which side started the fighting that led to those deaths, but the government of Turkey immediately condemned Armenia for triggering the hostilities and stated it would offer any support Azerbaijan requested.
On Friday, Anadolu reported that Ankara and Baku had organized joint military drills featuring air exercises.
“Turkish F-16 fighter jets have arrived in Azerbaijan for joint military exercises, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on Friday. In a statement, the ministry said the jets will take part in the TurAz Qartali-2020 Joint Exercises, which began on Wednesday,” Anadolu reported. “The drill, involving jets and helicopters, will continue in the capital Baku as well as Nakhchivan, Ganja, Kurdamir, and Yevlakh until Aug. 10.”
Anadolu noted the context of the Tavush attack and revealed that, of the 16 killed, 11 were Azerbaijani soldiers, including a major general in the Azerbaijani army.
On Wednesday, Anadolu noted that the two states are also planning joint ground exercises next week, including “artillery, armored vehicles, and mortars striking simulated targets.”
Turkey’s increased involvement in Azerbaijan follows a threat from that country to bomb a nuclear power plant in the region, potentially causing millions of casualties. Armenia is home to the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant, a poorly maintained relic of the Soviet era built near an earthquake fault. Following the Tavush incident, a spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry threatened to destroy it.
“The Armenian side must not forget that our army’s state-of-the-art missile systems allow us to strike the Metsamor nuclear plant with precision, which could lead to a great catastrophe for Armenia,” the spokesman, Vagif Dargahli, said. Turkey offered Azerbaijan air support shortly after this statement.
The Armenian government accused Azerbaijan of seeking a renewed genocide against Armenians, the victims of the first modern genocide.
“Such threats are an explicit demonstration of state terrorism and genocidal intent of Azerbaijan,” the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “The threats voiced by the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan to launch missile attacks at the Armenian Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant indicate the level of desperation and the crisis of mind of the political-military leadership of Azerbaijan.”
The joint exercises with Turkey are occurring at a time in which there appears to be no active hostility on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. On Friday, Armenia’s Ministry of Defense certified that the situation was “relatively calm,” according to the Armenian outlet Hetq, by which Yerevan meant that gunfire did target Armenia, but no reported injuries occurred.
On Monday, however, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of breaking a temporary ceasefire between the two countries, killing an Armenian soldier.
“It should be stressed that Azerbaijan resorted to this provocation few days after the statement issued by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, which particularly emphasized the importance of strictly adhering to the ceasefire and refraining from provocative actions in this period,” the Armenian Foreign Affairs Ministry asserted in a statement, referring to a group of European neighbors working to get both sides to dialogue.
“At the same time, Azerbaijan announced joint large-scale military exercises to be held with Turkey. All these demonstrate that the leadership of Azerbaijan, through its provocative actions, is undermining the efforts of the international mediators aimed at de-escalating the situation and resuming the peace process, thus bearing the responsibility for the consequences of further destabilization,” the Foreign Ministry denounced.
A week before that incident, a spokeswoman for the Armenian Defense Ministry accused Azerbaijan of attacking Tavush once more and suffering what Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) called “heavy casualties. Azerbaijan denied that any such incident occurred.
Turkey enjoys positive relations with Baku for both ideological and ethnic reasons, as Azeris speak a Turkic language and are generally considered a Turkic people. Armenians, on the other hand, are ethnically distinct and majority Christian; the Kingdom of Armenia was the first state in human history to adopt Christianity as its religion.
The Ottoman Empire committed what is widely regarded as the first genocide of the modern era against the Armenian people — as well as other Christians such as Assyrians and Greeks — in the beginning of the 20th century, killing 1.5 of an estimated 2 million Armenians in the world. To this day, Turkey denies that its actions constituted genocide and alleges, contradicting most authoritative historical accounts, that the killing of Armenians and other Christians occurred in the context of war and that many Turks also died.