Armenia announced on Monday ceremonial funerals for three soldiers killed this month when Azerbaijani forces shot down a helicopter in the fiercely disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an event that signaled a grave escalation in the more than 25-year-long conflict.
Nearly everything about the episode has been in dispute. Officials in Armenia said that the helicopter, a Russian-made Mi-24 gunship, had been flying a training mission when it was shot down on Nov. 12, virtually on the line of contact between the two sides. Azerbaijan said the helicopter had “made attack maneuvers” against Azerbaijani positions.
On Saturday, Armenian officials said the bodies of the three-man helicopter crew had finally been recovered in what they described as a covert operation in which two Azerbaijani soldiers were killed. They said that for 10 days after the helicopter’s destruction, efforts to reach the wreckage had been blocked by what they called enemy gunfire.
Azerbaijan denied shooting at the wreckage site and on Monday denied that its troops had suffered any casualties during a recovery operation. Hikmet Hajiyev, a spokesman for the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry, said that the “fully armed attack helicopter” had been shot down while flying over the “occupied Agdam region of Azerbaijan.”
Armenia has controlled most of Nagorno-Karabakh since 1994, following a formal cease-fire in its 1988 war with Azerbaijan. But the underlying dispute between the two, both former Soviet republics, remains far from resolved.
A spate of cease-fire violations this summer led to the deaths of more than 20 soldiers, and prompted a renewed push by international mediators, including meetings between the presidents, Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, in Sochi, Russia, in August, and in Paris in late October. The meetings produced no breakthroughs.