YEREVAN—Residents of Artsakh’s capital Stepanakert are bracing for another night of incessant air-raid sirens following destructive drone strikes throughout the early morning hours. In a noteworthy turn of events, Turkey’s involvement in the conflict reached new heights on Wednesday when the Armenian government announced that Azerbaijan had transferred control of its coordinated airstrikes against Artsakh to the Turkish Air Force. Armenia’s Defense Ministry says the operations are based out of the Turkish E7-T airborne C2 station in the region of Erzurum and Kars. “Provocative actions of Turkish armed forces seriously undermine regional security and hinder the efforts of the international community to cease hostilities,” read a statement from Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Also on Wednesday, Armenian Defense Ministry press secretary Shushan Stepanyan said Armenian ‘punitive’ counter-battery fire destroyed a TOS-A1 220mm thermobaric rocket launcher as well as an advancing mechanized column. Most Azerbaijani fire was concentrated on the town of Martakert throughout the day. Officials in Artsakh say an Azerbaijani airstrike hit a residential neighborhood, killing three and wounding over a dozen civilians. Authorities say that Turkish Air Force UAVs—supported by F-16s—were flying in standoff roles, remaining just outside the range of Armenia’s layered air-defense network.
An episode of the air environment presented earlier today pic.twitter.com/4yiOezihF5
— Shushan Stepanyan (@ShStepanyan) September 30, 2020
In addition to weapons systems and other logistical assistance, Turkey has been accused of airlifting Syrian and Libyan jihadis into Azerbaijan to fight in the conflict. Despite official denials from both Ankara and Baku, photographic evidence of Arab mercenaries near Artsakh—said to be members of the Turkish-trained and financed Sultan Murad Division and Sultan Suleiman Shah Brigade—has begun to surface, with several fighters being positively identified as hailing from Syria’s Idlib province. Activists from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have stated that almost one-thousand Syrian fighters have arrived in Azerbaijan; hundreds more are apparently on their way.
In a morning press briefing, Vahram Poghosyan, a spokesperson for the President of Artsakh, clarified that the deepest Azerbaijani breakthroughs—in the direction of Fizuli in the south and Martakert in the north—had been halted by Sunday evening. Virtually all those territories were later retaken by Artsakh forces over a series of counterattacks mounted on Monday and Tuesday. “Don’t ask me about which positions were lost or recaptured. Positions change hands regularly in military operations,” Poghosyan said. “This is total war with larger objectives,” he continued. Mr. Poghosyan further stated that Artsakh was committed to avoid targeting Azerbaijani civilian areas during this conflict. He did add that if Azerbaijan continued its belligerent actions, Armenian forces might have to launch operations beyond the LoC.
“Over these four days, we have shot down as much military equipment as we shot during the Artsakh Liberation War in the 90s,” said Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan during a trilingual evening press briefing. At the same time, Artsakh’s Ministry of Defense released updated casualties: 23 additional soldiers were killed in action for a total of 107.
In Athens, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias announced plans to pay a visit to Yerevan. The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Albania––which currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)––to organize an emergency meeting to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh situation. The statement went so far as to condemn the involvement of third parties in the conflict, explicitly saying, “Turkey ought to abstain from actions and statements in that direction.” Dendias also expressed his country’s readiness “to contribute to the efforts to de-escalate the crisis immediately” to his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Armenian community has called on authorities in Ottawa to ban the sale of weapons systems to Turkey. According to multiple reports, the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar UCAVs operating in Artsakh use critical components including electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) imaging and targeting sensor systems manufactured by L3Harris WESCAM, an Ontario-based subsidiary of US defense giant L3Harris. A joint statement released by the Armenian National Committee of Canada (ANCC) and several other Canadian-Armenian organizations read, “We, in particular, as Canadian citizens fully engaged in the wellbeing of our beloved and peace-loving country of Canada, expect our government to forcefully condemn the unjustified Azeri-Turkish aggression, which threatens the peace of an entire critical region of the world, as well as to demand the immediate cessation of all hostilities.” The continued export of Canadian weapons systems to Turkey violates a federal ban on Canadian arms supplies to Ankara following its 2019 invasion on Syria according to the Ottawa-based think tank Project Ploughshares, which investigates Canadian arms exports.
Neighboring Georgia also expressed concern over the escalating situation and offered to serve as a mediator between the parties. However, tensions between Georgia’s ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities—who have long been noted for their peaceful cohabitation despite the enmity between their two countries—have also begun to flare up. In the country’s Armenian-populated Javakheti region, people lined up to volunteer for the fighting in Artsakh, while others collected money and donations for civilians caught in the fighting. However, Georgian border guards momentarily prevented them from crossing into Armenia, citing the sealed borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ethnic Azeris held rallies in support of the armed actions in front of the Azerbaijani embassy in Tbilisi. Local Armenians also reportedly attempted to block the highway connection between Turkey and Georgia, demanding that Georgian authorities cease allowing the transit of military resupply to Azerbaijan through their territory.