BAKU (RFE/RL)—At least a dozen Turkish warplanes and helicopter gunships are carrying out flights in Azerbaijan in the second joint Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercises conducted so far this year.
The F-16 fighter jets, C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft and Super Cobra and Black Hawk helicopters reportedly arrived in Azerbaijan on Thursday to take part in what the Defense Ministry in Baku called “large-scale” exercises of its ground forces that ended on Saturday.
A ministry statement released over the weekend claimed that they involved as many as 30,000 Azerbaijani soldiers, hundreds of tanks and artillery systems, dozens of military aircraft and helicopters as well as an unspecified number of Turkish military personnel. It said they practiced “offensive operations in different conditions, including in a mountainous terrain.”
Official videos of drills indicated a much smaller number of participating troops and pieces of military hardware, however. The images also suggest that the Turkish Air Force units have carried out flights near a military airfield, rather than the scene of the ground force exercises.
A ministry statement cited by the Trend news agency on Monday said more than 30 Turkish and Azerbaijani fighter jets, military aircraft and helicopters are jointly training and “testing possibilities of coordination in combat operations.” It said their joint flights will continue through October 3.
Photographs released by the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry showed at least six Turkish F-16 jets and four Super Cobra choppers parked on tarmac at an undisclosed location in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov visited the airfield and met with Air Force personnel at the weekend.
The latest Azerbaijani war games began on September 13 more than a month after a sharp escalation of deadly fighting along Azerbaijan’s border with Armenia and “the line of contact” around Karabakh. Ceasefire violations in the Karabakh conflict zone decreased just as dramatically following an August 10 meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents mediated by their Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
“We monitor any [Azerbaijani] military exercise and take appropriate measures. But at this point we are not faced with any extraordinary threat,” Davit Babayan, a spokesman for Karabakh President Bako Sahakian, told Armenia’s GALA television on September 18.
The previous Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercises took place near Turkey’s border with Armenia in February. They reportedly involved more than 1,600 Turkish and about 100 Azerbaijani soldiers. The Turkish General Staff said at the time that the maneuvers are aimed at boosting cooperation between “the armed forces of the two fraternal states.”
Such drills appear to have become more frequent since the signing in 2010 of a Turkish-Azerbaijani treaty on “strategic partnership and mutual assistance.” It is not clear, though, whether the treaty commits the Turkish military to fighting on the Azerbaijani side in case Baku attempts to forcibly regain control over Karabakh and territories surrounding it.
During and after the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, Armenia has sought to preclude direct Turkish military intervention in the Karabakh conflict with close defense links with Russia and, in particular, Russian military presence on its soil. A Russian-Armenian agreement signed in 2010 upgraded the security mission of a Russian army base headquartered in Gyumri, an Armenian city close to the Turkish border,
The base has been reinforced with more modern weaponry in recent years. Over the past year Moscow has also modernized some 16 MiG-29 fighter jets stationed in Yerevan. In addition, it plans to deploy about two dozen combat helicopters there by the end of this year.
More than 1,500 Russian and Armenian troops held annual joint exercises in central Armenia earlier this month.