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Karabakh Leader: Azerbaijan's Warnings Not Keeping Airport Closed

The new airport terminal constructed near Stepanakert.
The new airport terminal constructed near Stepanakert.
YEREVAN -- Authorities in the breakaway Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh deny that a delay in the opening of an airport near the main city, Stepanakert, is due to threats made by Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The first commercial flights between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in two decades had initially been announced for May, but were eventually postponed indefinitely due to what local officials cited as "technical reasons."

The change in the plan came after Azerbaijan's repeated condemnation of possible airport operations as illegal and a threat to shoot down aircraft entering Karabakh without Baku's permission.

Bako Sahakian, the Armenian leader of Karabakh, this week repeated that the reason for the delay in the opening of the nearly renovated airport is "technical."

On July 6, Azerbaijani State Civil Aviation Authority Director Arif Mammadov was quoted by local media as again warning that flights to and from Karabakh would be illegal as the Interstate Aviation Committee, a body regulating the use of airspace between a dozen former Soviet republics, would not issue the Stepanakert airport a certificate to operate.

That statement has reportedly been rejected by aviation officials in Karabakh.

In an interview with RFE/RL on July 5, Sahakian said: "At the moment we are carrying out additional work related to both the runway and the acquisition and installation of additional equipment, since we make no secret of the fact that we want this airport and its flights to meet international standards. Therefore, we approach this work with particular responsibility."

He said flights from the Stepanakert airport would commence as soon as the technical matters were settled. But he added that he could not yet give a precise date for the start of operations.

"I would like to note that the matter does not concern international flights, but for now only Stepanakert-Yerevan and Yerevan-Stepanakert flights," he added. "We hope that in the future we will also operate international flights."