In a move suggestive of a game of dare with Azerbaijan, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan on March 31 declared that he will be the first passenger to board a planned flight from Yerevan to Stepanakert, capital of breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan, which is seeking to recover its lost territory, has threatened to shoot at any plane flying into Stepanakert. The town’s airport has been closed since 1991, just before the hot phase of the Karabakh conflict commenced between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces.
The inaugural flight, to be operated by a newly formed airline, Air Artsakh (the Armenian name for Karabakh), is scheduled to take off May 9. That is a date loaded with significance – still celebrated as Victory Day, commemorating the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. It also marks the 19th anniversary of Armenian and Karabakhi forces’ entrance into the strategic Karabakhi town of Shushi. In addition, Azerbaijan on May 10 celebrates the birthday of its revered former president Heidar Aliyev, the father of the incumbent leader in Baku.
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Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan and editor of MediaLab.am.