YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The armed forces of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh on Friday vowed to retaliate strongly against Azerbaijan for shooting down an Armenian helicopter gunship on “the line of contact” east of Karabakh.
“What happened was unfortunate for us and impudent of them. We will undoubtedly deliver a proportionate — and even a bit disproportionate — answer to their actions,” Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told reporters in Stepanakert.
Ohanian’s first deputy, Davit Tonoyan, similarly spoke of “collateral damage” which he said the Azerbaijani military will suffer as a consequence of the “new form of ceasefire violation.” “By collateral damage I mean Armenian forces’ possible actions in response to the downing of the helicopter and, of course, the risk of disrupting the negotiation process and nullifying efforts to strengthen the ceasefire,” he said in written remarks released in Yerevan.
Neither Ohanian nor Tonoyan elaborated on the retaliatory actions planned by the Armenian side. General Movses Hakobian, the commander of the Karabakh Armenian army, would also not be drawn on them. “It’s up to the army to decide what actions we will take,” Hakobian said.
Ohanian and Hakobian answered journalists’ questions after watching, together with President Serzh Sarkisian, Armenian military exercises held in and around Karabakh. Both military leaders reiterated strong Armenian denials of Baku’s claims that the Mi-24 combat helicopter flew over Azerbaijani army positions and attempted to attack them before being shot down on Wednesday.
The helicopter fell to the no man’s land separating Azerbaijani and Karabakh Armenian forces in the Aghdam district just east of Karabakh. Hakobian said his troops have still not been able to approach the wreckage of the helicopters and recover the bodies of its three crew members presumed dead because of heavy Azerbaijani gunfire.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Friday that its forces are not firing at the crash site.
The authorities in Stepanakert have asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (IRCR) to help arrange the repatriation of the three pilots: Major Sergey Sahakian, Senior Lieutenant Sargis Nazarian and Lieutenant Azat Sahakian. An ICRC spokeswoman in Yerevan, Zara Amatuni, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the Red Cross has already asked the Azerbaijani authorities to allow its representatives to inspect the wreckage.