Satellite imagery shows Turkish Air Force F-16 Viper fighter jets 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 Planet Labs image of Ganja International Airport, dated Oct. 3, 2020, shows the pair of F-16s, as well as what could be a CN-235 light transport aircraft. 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.
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.
Armenia’s shootdown claim remains unconfirmed, but the Planet Labs image from Oct. 3 all but confirms that Turkish F-16s were at Ganja at least as of that date. While it’s not possible to say with absolute certainty who the operator of the F-16s in the imagery is, it’s hard to see how they could belong to anyone else but Turkey.