Satellite photographs taken on October 3, 2020, confirmed that two F-16 fighter jets and what resembles a CASA CN-235 transport plane were stationed on the tarmac of the Azerbaijani base in Ganja, located about 80 km from Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani Air Force operates neither F-16 fighter jets nor CN-235 transport planes. It is likely that the jets were brought to Ganja during the “TurAz Qartali-2020” joint exercise that took place in July 2020, after another series of border incidents between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
There are at least two F-16s at Ganja International Airport in Azerbaijan, our analysis of an Oct. 3 @planetlabs satellite image shows. The fighter jets are likely operated by the Turkish Air Force, alongside a possible CN-235 cargo aircraft. Here’s a short thread why. pic.twitter.com/de1XsmXXZr
— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) October 7, 2020
On September 29, 2020, the Ministry of Defense of Armenia claimed that a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Su-25 attack aircraft. Several aircraft took off from the Azerbaijani Air Force base in Ganja International Airport (KVD), western Azerbaijan, to “support the actions of Azerbaijani aviation and drones that were striking the settlements of Vardenis, Mets Masrik and Sotk in Armenia,” the press secretary of the Armenian Minister of Defense Shushan Stepanyan said.
An Armenian Su-25 attack aircraft, which was supporting the Armenian air defense at the time, was allegedly shot down by one of the Turkish F-16 fighter jets. The office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the allegation. “The Armenian claim is false”, declared presidential aide Fahrettin Altun.
Turkish material on the battleground
If the presence of Turkish F-16s in Ganja now seems likely, their involvement in the fighting that raged between the Azerbaijani army and that of Nagorno-Karabakh is not proven. “The F-16s have been there as a deterrent against any Armenian attacks on civilian populations and military installations within Azerbaijan,” sources told the Middle East Eye.
What was confirmed, however, is the use of Turkish drones against Armenian targets. On September 27, 2020, as the fights erupted, a video released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense showing airstrikes on several defense positions led to the suspicion that Turkey could be actively helping its neighbor. Indeed, the footage seems to have been shot from a Bayraktar TB2, as the interface suggests.
On October 5, 2020, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev confirmed that the drones used were of Turkish conception in an interview with the TRT Haber. “Thanks to advanced Turkish drones owned by the Azerbaijan military, our casualties on the front shrunk,” Aliyev said.
Although the president did not specify the nationality of operators, no acquisition of the TB2 was finalized at this point. In June 2020, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry voiced its intention to procure some of the drones from its ally, but it seems unlikely that they could have been built and that Azerbaijani operators trained in such a short amount of time.