Already Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in their worst fighting in decades in the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region. Now only three days into fighting, at least 100 people have been killed, which includes soldiers and civilians on both sides, amid tank warfare and the deployment of infantry and artillery units. There's also increasing signs of direct aerial combat.
Raising the likelihood of a full-blown regional war in the Caucuses, Turkish President Erdogan's office shocked on Tuesday with a direct threat of intervention on its ally Azerbaijan's behalf:
Turkey raised the spectre of full-blown war in the flashpoint Caucus region of Nagorno Karabakh on Tuesday after vowing to help its ally Azerbaijan seize the disputed territory back from Armenian control.
As fighting in the region raged for a third day, Turkey said it was “fully committed” to helping Azerbaijan take back its “occupied” lands, which Azeris were driven out of during the civil war of the early 1990s.
The spokesman for the Turkish president made the statements already as Azerbaijan is poised for a full-scale military incursion into Nagorno Karabakh, which would trigger a national Armenian armed forces response.
Yereven already on Sunday into Monday gave a nationwide 'full troops mobilization' order, and additional forces are flooding into the breakaway region which Armenia has for decades protected, despite the territory being officially within Azerbaijan's borders.
Tensions ran high between Ankara and Yerevan after on Tuesday Armenia's Defense Ministry claimed a Turkish F-16 shot down an Armenian SU-25. While Turkey immediately denied the claim, slamming it as "fake news" and "propaganda," Armenia the following day published photographs of wreckage it says proves the aircraft downing over Armenian airspace.
An official Government of Armenia run account issued the photo set:
On September 29, F-16 multifunctional fighter of the Turkish Air Forces downed SU-25 Fighter within the airspace of #Armenia. It was carrying out combat tasks to repel the attacks of #Azerbaijan on military and civilian objects. Pilot Major Valeri Danelin was killed pic.twitter.com/ew01OZujPc— Armenian Unified Infocenter (@ArmenianUnified) September 30, 2020
The aircraft shootdown incident was widely reported yet has not been independently verified, with outside observers fearing the intense 'fog of war' environment makes information and claims hard to verify.
As for Turkish intervention, it's widely believed this is already taking place covertly on the ground, especially via transfer of Turkish-backed Syrian jihadists who previously waged proxy war on Assad.
Today Azerbaijani armed forces launched attacks on military-civilian infrastructures of the internationally recognized territory of Armenia.This includes the civilian population, killing one civilian, a civilian bus was shelled, SU 26 was shot down#NKpeace#AzerbaijaniAgression pic.twitter.com/wwJZlInOx5— Armenian Unified Infocenter (@ArmenianUnified) September 29, 2020
Though initially only reported in local and independent Mideast media, The Guardian and others have finally taken note:
Syrian rebel fighters have signed up to work for a private Turkish security company as border guards in Azerbaijan, several volunteers in Syria’s last rebel stronghold have said, at a time when the long-running conflict between Baku and neighbouring Armenia is showing dangerous signs of escalation.
The potential deployment is a sign of Turkey’s growing appetite for projecting power abroad, and opens a third theatre in its regional rivalry with Moscow.
Indeed Turkey and Russia are now on opposite sides of three different proxy wars: in Libya, Syria, and now the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
These reports of Turkish supplied Syrian mercenaries began days ago, even shortly before the start of hostilities Sunday, in what regional analysts predicted would be a huge escalation in hostilities in the Caucuses.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan previously slammed Turkey's meddling in the conflict. Ankara had called Armenia "an obstacle" to peace after the fresh hostilities broke out. Yerevan has now formally confirmed Turkey is supplying fighters.
Meanwhile, Moscow has a long-running defense pact with Armenia, including the presence of a large Russian military base in Armenia's northwest, while Turkey is considered a "brother country" of Azerbaijan, also with a key pipeline that runs across Turkey into the EU originating there.
Should Erdogan actually follow through with this newest threat to intervene more forcefully on Baku's behalf, there's little doubt that Armenia will trigger its defense treaty with Russia, calling in support from the Kremlin.