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Nagorno-Karabakh To Reopen Airport

The new airport terminal near Stepanakert
The new airport terminal near Stepanakert
STEPANAKERT -- Authorities in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh are pressing ahead with plans to reopen the disputed territory's sole civilian airport, which was shut down nearly two decades ago.

Flights to and from the airport, located 8 kilometers east of Stepanakert, had been discontinued in 1991 amid intensifying armed clashes in and around Karabakh, which degenerated into a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war.

Transport and communication between the territory and the outside world have since been carried out only by land, through Armenia.

The Karabakh government decided last year to reopen the airport, which was severely damaged during the 1991-92 war, and raised about 1 billion drams ($2.8 million) for its reconstruction from unspecified "charitable sources." It began building a new airport terminal and repairing the runway shortly afterward.

Karabakh officials said earlier this year that a flight service between Stepanakert and Yerevan could be launched in mid-October.

Bako Sahakian, the president of the unrecognized republic, made clear that this would not happen before the end of this year when he inspected the facility, which is still under construction, on October 5.

According to Karabakh's urban development minister, Karen Shahramanian, work on the terminal building will be completed in November. He told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that air navigation equipment was now being installed at the airport.

It is expected that Karabakh, at least in the near future, will have a regular flight service only with Armenia. Its unresolved status makes direct air communication with other countries all but impossible.

It is not yet clear whether the Stepanakert-Yerevan flights will be carried out by Armenia's national airline Armavia. Officials have said only that a one-way air ticket to the Armenian capital will cost 16,000 drams ($45).

By comparison, the current fare for a minibus trip from Stepanakert to Yerevan, which takes between six and seven hours, is 5,000 drams per person.

A random street poll of Stepanakert residents conducted by RFE/RL suggested that many locals will be willing to pay a higher price for much shorter and more convenient travel.

"We won't be tired of long trips," said one man. "It should be interesting," noted another.