The European Union has called for an investigation in an incident in which an Armenian military helicopter, belonging to the armed forces of the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was shot down by Azerbaijan. A statement issued by the European External Action Service (EEAS) said "it is essential that all sides show restraint and avoid any actions or statements which could escalate the situation. Furthermore, we call for an investigation into this incident."
In its' statement the European Union reiterated its full support to the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and the three Co-Chairs. It said both sides have to strictly respect the ceasefire, to refrain from the use of force or any threat thereof, and to resume efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."
On their part, the three co-Chairman of the OSCE Minsk Process also issued a statement following the incident. Ambassadors Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, James Warlick of the United States, and Pierre Andrieu of France expressed their very serious concern about the downing of a helicopter near the Line of Contact and the recent violence. "We regret the loss of life and express our condolences to the families", they said in their statement
The Co-Chairs are deeply worried by the events that prompted this drastic incident, the first of its kind since the ceasefire agreement was reached. Their statement added, "We strongly appeal to the sides to avoid steps that would escalate tension along the Line of Contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The region cannot afford another round of violence like we witnessed this summer. Today's events remind us of the volatility of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the urgency to intensify efforts to find a lasting settlement. We remain resolved to assist the sides in any way possible. We remind the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan of their responsibilities to respect the ceasefire and honour the commitments they made in Sochi, Newport, and Paris to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We also encourage them to adopt confidence-building measures now that would increase transparency along the Line of Contact and the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, and reduce the likelihood of events like today's incident."
According to media reports two Armenian helicopters approached the Azerbaijani side of the line of contact whilst participating in military manoevres that have been going on for the last days. One of the helicopters was shot down and the other escaped. Azerbaijan has confirmed it shot down the Armenian helicopter 1700 meters north-east of Kangarli village (Aghdam region). This is the first time that an aircraft has been shot down in the Karabakh conflict zone since the cease fire came into force twenty years ago. A statement by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said that the Azerbaijani forces shot down the helicopter whilst responding to its fire. The Azerbaijani Defence Minister in the meantime has said that the soldier who shot down the helicopter has been given a medal.
According to Armenian sources "The helicopter was shot down on Wednesday at around 1:45pm, and as a result of ceasefire violation by the Azerbaijani armed forces. The helicopter was shot during a training flight in the airspace of the eastern sector of the Karabakh-Azerbaijan border. The location where the helicopter was shot at is very close to the Line of Contact."
Armenian Defense Minister press secretary, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, told Armenian News-NEWS.am that "the Azerbaijani accusations that the Armenian helicopters had launched an attack on Azerbaijani positions are mindless, since an examination of the pieces of the helicopter's debris will confirm that it was not armed".
photo: An Armenian helicopter is seen ablaze after being hit by Azerbaijani fire near the line of contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. A second Armenian helicopter is seen moving away from the incident. (Photo is one of a series released by the Ministry of Defence of Azerbaijan).