A plane carrying paying customers, officials and reporters completed the first commercial flight between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for the first time in 25 years, signaling a hopeful new chapter in the two countries’ often-strained relations.
The plane departed the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, at 10 a.m. on February 10 and arrived less than an hour later in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent.
“The Tashkent-Dushanbe-Tashkent flight, which the peoples of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have awaited for 25 years, was made possible by the willingness of the two nations’ leader to meet halfway,” Tom Hallam, chief executive at Tajikistan’s privately owned Somon Air, was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti news agency.
Regular flights along the same route are scheduled to start from February 20.
Dushanbe-based news website Asia-Plus reported that only 14 tickets were sold for the maiden flight. Aside from paying customers, other fliers included aviation officials and journalists.
Asia-Plus quoted one passenger, Jamila Yusupova, as describing the flight as a momentous personal occasion.
“I am originally from Tashkent and back in the Soviet days I moved to Tajikistan together with my husband. And it has been 25 years since I have not been able to see my family. Now my brother and sister, who I haven’t seen for a quarter of a century, are waiting for me there,” she said.
Narmurad Rajabov, an ethnic Tajik living in the city of Bukhara, said his brother lived in neighboring Tajikistan. He said they had not seen one another for many years because of the difficulties entailed in securing a visa.
“I am very glad that planes have begun flying between our two countries. Now I really hope the issues with visas are settled. The ticket is quite expensive for the time being, but I think that once there are more customers, the prices will come down,” Rajabov told EurasiaNet.org.
The flight will be a compelling inducement for those wishing to overcome the visa barrier, as passengers from either country traveling on this route will be eligible to get the visa directly at the airport.
The air route between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan was suspended in 1992 just as the Tajik civil war broke out. Sections of the border remain mined to this day.
Some of the bilateral tension stemmed from the late Uzbek president Islam Karimov’s own personal antipathies, particularly toward his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon. Relations were especially troubled by Tajik plans to build the giant Roghun hydropower dam, over which Tashkent has routinely expressed objections.
Perhaps the most marked change ushered in by the new Uzbek president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, have been in foreign affairs. Mirziyoyev has declared the need to mend ties with neighboring countries as a top priority for his government, breaking from a long-standing policy of diplomatic aloofness pursued by his predecessor.