Posted 28 September 2012 - 10:47 AM
TEST OF WILL?: NKR ANNOUNCES OPENING OF AIRPORT AS ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN TENSIONS REMAIN HIGH
By John Hughes
Karabakh | 27.09.12 | 13:11
Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh are now saying that the self-declared
republic's airport - which has already been a flashpoint of regional
tension and controversy - will open "next week".
The announcement has dominated Armenian media since Wednesday, when
the head of civil aviation in the internationally-unrecognized NKR
Government stated that flights will begin, and that the airport just
outside capital Stepanakert will serve 100 passengers per hour with
flights on "Artsakh Air".
The airport was first predicted to open nearly two years ago, drawing
immediate anger from Azerbaijan officials, who said any flights in
"occupied" airspace would be viewed as provocation, and subject to
being shot down. For more than a year, opening of the airport has
been delayed "for technical reasons".
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan - a native Karabakhi - responded
to threats in March 2011, by saying that he would be the first
passenger to fly out of the airport, underscoring his confidence in
safe operation from the troubled territory which has been under cease
fire since 1994.
As recently as July of this year, Baku restated its right to shoot
down aircraft over Karabakh, which covers some 7,000 square kilometers
of land viewed by Azeris as still belonging to them.
When the OSCE Minsk Group stated in July that opening the airport
would be seen as a means of strengthening the potential for peace
between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the director of Azerbaijan's State
Civil Aviation Administration Arif Mammadov reiterated the earlier
statements on downing planes.
"This is the right of the Azerbaijani side, according to the law on
aviation. Whether this right will be implemented or not, it is for
the government to decide," Mammadov said.
The apparent decision to now begin operating commercial flights out
of Karabakh comes as tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have
piqued since last month. Hungary extradited an Azeri army officer,
Ramil Safarov, who had brutally killed an Armenian officer in Budapest.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev immediately pardoned the killer, promoted
him from lieutenant to major, paid him a salary equivalent to the 8
years he had been in jail in Hungary, and gave him an apartment.
The action drew international condemnation against Azerbaijan, and
was widely viewed by political analysts as proof that the warring
nations - Armenia is Christian, Azerbaijan is Muslim - are too far
apart in any meaningful way for reconciliation to be expected.
Since the "Safarov Affair", a peace settlement seems more distant than
at any time in the protracted conflict. It is likely that international
attention and concern will focus on the tiny airport should there,
indeed, be planes flying "soon" as announced by head of the NKR Civil
Aviation Dmitry Adbashyan.