Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out on Sunday around the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian Defence Ministry said two Azerbaijani helicopters were shot down.
Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan also said Armenian forces hit three Azerbaijani tanks. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan that has been out of Azerbaijan’s control since the end of a war in 1994. Both sides have heavy military presence along a demilitarised zone separating the region from the rest of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry denied the claim that its helicopters and tanks had been hit. But President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised address to the nation that “there are losses among the Azerbaijani forces and the civilian population as a result of the Armenian bombardment”.
Stepanyan said the fighting began on Sunday with an Azerbaijani attack, but Azerbaijan said the Armenian side attacked and that Azerbaijan launched a counteroffensive.
Turkey extends support to Azerbaijan
The news was harshly received by Azerbaijan’s close ally, Turkey, which vowed complete support for Baku and called on Armenia to give up its “aggression”. Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan termed Armenia as the “biggest threat to peace in region” and said extended complete support to Azerbaijan.
“The Turkish people will support our Azerbaijani brothers with all our means as always,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted.
He accused Armenia of “being the biggest threat in the region to peace and stability” and criticised the international community for failing to give the “necessary and sufficient reaction” to Armenia’s “aggression”.
Erdogan also said he held a phone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during which he was “witness once again to his shrewd and determined position”.
Turkey’s ruling party spokesman Omer Celik tweeted: “We vehemently condemn Armenia’s attack on Azerbaijan. Armenia has once against committed a provocation, ignoring law.” He promised Turkey would stand by Azerbaijan and said, “Armenia is playing with fire and endangering regional peace.”
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also took to Twitter to condemn Armenia. “Armenia has violated the ceasefire by attacking civilian settlements […] the international community must immediately say stop to this dangerous provocation.”
“The greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Caucasus is Armenia’s aggression, and it should give up this aggression which will throw the region into fire,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement.
Turkey is a key ally of Baku with close cultural and linguistic ties with Azerbaijan.
Ankara has no diplomatic relations with Yerevan due to a dispute over the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire which Armenia says is a genocide.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov discussed the crisis on Sunday during a telephone conversation, a Turkish diplomatic source said, without giving details.
The worst clashes since 2016 broke out on Sunday between arch-foes Azerbaijan and Armenia who have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over Nagorny Karabakh.
Mostly mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh — a region some 4,400 square kilometers — lies 50 kilometres from the Armenian border. Local soldiers backed by Armenia also occupy some Azerbaijani territory outside the region.
International efforts to settle the conflict have stalled and fighting sporadically breaks out. In July, one of the most severe outbreaks of fighting in years left 16 people from both sides dead.