Satellite imagery shows at least two F-16 Viper fighter jets, almost certainly belonging to the Turkish Air Force, at Ganja International Airport in Azerbaijan earlier this month. This is the first hard evidence that at least some of these jets were in that country after fighting erupted between it and its neighbor Armenia over the long-disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The War Zone obtained the image of Ganja International Airport, dated Oct. 3, 2020, showing the pair of F-16s, as well as what could be a CN-235 light transport aircraft, from Planet Labs. The airport is situated in the western part of Azerbaijan, less than 50 miles north from Nagorno-Karabakh.
Christiaan Triebert, of The New York Times’ Visual Investigations team was among the first to spot the jets in this imagery, providing initial analysis in a thread on Twitter. Triebert said that the region has been a particular point of interest for the Visual Investigations team, as it has been for other news outlets, experts, and observers, since a new major conflict broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh on Sept. 27, 2020. Since 1994, the Armenian-backed Republic of Artsakh has held de facto control over Nagorno-Karabakh, despite the area being widely recognized as Azerbaijani territory. Fighting has flared up at times in the intervening decades.
The issue of the possible presence of Turkish F-16s at Ganja and their potential involvement in this conflict first arose on Sept. 29, 2020, when Shushan Stepanyan, the Press Secretary of the Minister of Defense of Armenia, claimed that one of these jets flying from that airport had shot down an Armenian Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack jet. Turkish and Azerbaijani officials categorically denied this and said that no Turkish Vipers were conducting combat operations in the region.
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