Azerbaijan has toned down its rhetoric about shooting down planes that fly over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. But Baku remains at loggerheads with Armenia and Karabakh separatists over plans to reopen the region’s airport.
Azerbaijani officials now underline that they will rely on diplomacy in their attempt to prevent the airport from operating. In 2009, Karabakh’s de facto leadership announced plans to reopen the breakaway region’s airport, which Azerbaijan closed in 1991 at the outset of the hot phase of the Karabakh conflict. Located some eight kilometers outside of the region’s capital – called Khandkendi by Azerbaijanis, and Stepanakert by Armenians -- the airport has undergone a $2.8 million refurbishment, according to Armenian media reports.
If the airport reopens, Air Artsakh (the Armenian name for Karabakh), which Karabakh separatist officials characterize as a “state-run airline,” will fly daily between Yerevan and Khandkendi/Stepanakert. The company possesses three Canadian-made CRJ200 passenger jets.
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance reporter based in Baku and a board member of the Open Society Assistance Foundation – Azerbaijan.