There are increased fears that the opening of an airport in Nagorno-Karabakh may trigger another crisis in the tense relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The airport, called Stepanakert Airport by Armenians and Khojali Airport by the Azerbaijanis, has been reconstructed by the authorities of the de fact Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and has been ready for operation for several months. Azerbaijan insists that as Nagorno Karabakh is recognised internationally as part of its territory it cannot operate without its permission.
Azerbaijan has heightened its rhetoric on the issue since the New Year. The Azerbaijani News Agency APA quoted an official of the Azerbaijani Air and Air Missile Defence Forces as saying that they were monitoring activity around the airport and were ready to prevent "unpermitted" flights to this airport.
Media reports say that the issue of the airport was raised in a meeting this week in Brussels between the Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia, Hovik Abrahamyan and the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbour Hood Policy, Stefan Fule. Fule is reported to have urged all sides from taking actions that may increase tensions, and to solve the issue of the airport through diplomatic means.
Commonspace.eu political editor said in a comment that
"Baku sees the issue of the opening of the airport as a further attempt by the Stepanakert authorities and their allies in Yerevan to assert the independent character of Nagorno-Karabakh, something that Baku rejects outright.
The de facto authorities of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have done little to soothe Baku's fears in this regard, and the issue has all the potential to spiral into a much more serious crisis, especially if flights are started and Baku tries to interfere with them.
A solution could be found if the airport is put under some kind of international supervision, and the opening presented as a neutral confidence building measure with a humanitarian dimension rather than a provocative political act.
The fact that the OSCE Minsk Process designated to resolve the Karabakh conflict is currently stalled does not help, but on the issue of the airport, as on many other aspects of the conflict the international community needs to be more proactive than it has shown a willingness to be so far."
photo: The newly reconstructed terminal of the airport in Nagorno-Karabakh (archive picture)
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