Monday, 4 April 2011

Tensions rise between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh airport

Tension has risen between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the impending opening of an airport in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which ended with a ceasefire in 1994. Ownership over seven areas are still disputed between the two sides, but the most heated is Norgorno-Karabakh, which declared itself independent in 1991.

Nagorno-Karabakh has a primarily Armenian population and has been occupied by Armenian armed forces since 1991, despite lying within Azerbaijani territory.

The enclave largely runs its own affairs, although it gets economic and military support from Armenia. Due to open in May, the airport plans to have regular flights between Armenia and Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Plans to reopen the airport, which was severely damanged during the war in the early 1990s, have angered Baku, and it said that it would shoot down any civilian planes that fly there.

Earlier this year, Azerbaijan told the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) that it had not authorised flights over its breakaway region.

Head of the Azeri Civil Aviation Administration Arif Mammadov said in a statement earlier this month, "Azerbaijan has the right to shoot down plans landing in this airport which is on occupied territory."

On 31st March, Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan hit back. "It is terrorist organizations that have always aired such threats, but not states. Making such statements at the state level is marasmus, statements of sick people."

"I can announce that I, the president of the Republic of Armenia, will be the first passenger on the flight," he said.

Chief of the Civil Aviation of Karabakh, Valery Adbashyan noted that Azerbaijan had signed the ICAO Convention, under which it pledged not to attack civilian jets and said that the ICAO should strip Azerbaijan of its membership in the ICAO.

The international community has also reacted to the statement. US Ambassadors to Armenia and Azerbaijan Marie Jovanovich and Matthew Bryza spoke about the inadmissibility of such statements, according to Armenia Now.

Azerbaijan appears to have backed down from its original stance. On 1st April, the official representative of Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry, Elhan Polukhov said "Azerbaijan has never used, nor will use force against civilian objects."

There is, however, considerable anger within Azerbaijan that the flights will go ahead. Foreign Ministry representative Novruz Mammadov told Azerbaijani media that Sargsyan's comments were deliberately provocative.

"It is regretful that international organizations and the countries, give no reaction to such a blatant conduct of the Armenian side. Nagorno-Karabakh is a native land of Azerbaijan, which has been under Armenian occupation for more than 20 years."

"It turns out that despite everything Armenia continues its occupational policy before the eyes of the world community," he was quoted in Today.Az as saying.

The airport is due to open on 9th May.

Sources: Today.Az, News.Am, Alert Net, Armenia Now

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