The Press-Courier – Mar 28, 1992
By Larry Rickman
Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) — A passenger plane evacuating wounded women and children from Nagorno-Karabakh was hit by a heat-seeking missile fired from Azerbaijan yesterday, news reports said, but the pilot landed the burning jet safely. The attack on the blue and white Aeroflot jet came as the two former Soviet republics agreed to extend for two weeks a cease-fire in the disputed region until peace talks can start, officials in both states said.
The cease fire, brokered by Iran, began March 20 to allow UN special envoy Cyrus Vance to visit the region.
The Yak-40 Aeroflot jet of Armenia’s fleet had just taken off from Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, when it was hit by the missile fired from the Kelbadzhar district of Azerbaijan, said Mikit Kazaryan, a spokesman for the Armenian Mission in Moscow. The plane was en route to the Armenian capital, Yerevan.
Kazaryan and the Armenpress news agency reported that the missile did not explode, but damaged an engine on the plane’s tail. The pilot was able to shut the engine down and land safely in Yerevan on two engines.
Commonwealth television showed the tail engine’s metal skin torn away and twisted. Several small holes also could be seen in the fuselage.
The damaged jet landed “only due to the pilot’s extraordinary skills,” the ITAR-Tass news agency said. It said firefighters at Yerevan’s airport put out a fire that threatened the aircraft, and some passengers suffered minor injuries. The plane had been evacuating wounded women and children from Stepanakert, the Interfax news agency reported.
Despite the Nagorno-Karabakh truce, the two sides have shelled each other practically every day. ITAR-Tass said the towns of Martuni and Dashusen were hit by artillery fire yesterday, and five other villages were shelled overnight.
“If it is a cease-fire, if the thing that exists can be called a cease-fire, it has been extended,” said Ashot Antinian, press secretary to Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Azerbaijani government spokesman Arahim Agayev said the ceasefire would continue until comprehensive peace talks can begin.
“Now it is comparatively calm in Nagorno-Karabakh, and if the ceasefire is broken, it will be entirely the fault of Armenia.” he said.
Iran’s U.N. ambassador said the cease-fire extension would last two weeks.
The Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry said it was prepared to open talks with Armenia, but ruled out participation by residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, the mainly Christian Armenian enclave inside Muslim Azerbaijan.
The Foreign Ministry said the participation of Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh “as an independent side in Azerbaijan-Armenia talks on the settlement of the conflict in the region is unacceptable as it would signify a violation of the state integrity and sovereignty of the Azerbaijan republic.”
The Caucasus Mountains neighbors have been locked in a 4-year-old battle for control of the Armenian enclave, and more than 1.000 people have died in the fighting that escalated sharply with the breakup of the Soviet Union.