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Nagorno-Karabakh Reports Surge In Tourism

YEREVAN -- Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh say the number of foreign tourists visiting the breakaway Azerbaijani region jumped by almost 50 percent in the first half of this year following a similarly sharp rise recorded in 2010, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

"More than 3,000 foreigners visited Nagorno-Karabakh in the first half of 2011, a 49 percent increase from the same period of 2010," the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) said in a statement.

"Compared to the same period of the previous year [2009,] the first half of 2010 was also marked by a significant 45 percent increase in tourist numbers," it added.

The official figures do not include residents of Armenia.

According to the statement, citizens of over two dozen countries visited the territory this year, notably the United States, France, Russia, and Iran, which have sizable ethnic Armenian communities.

The statement also spoke of a growing tourist influx from more farther-flung places such as Japan, China, and New Zealand.

It said the forthcoming reopening of the territory's sole airport will "greatly facilitate" further development of the local tourism industry.

A senior Karabakh official told RFE/RL earlier this month that the delayed airport reconstruction will be completed by the end of September.

The Azerbaijani authorities regard private or business trips to Nagorno-Karabakh that have not been authorized by them as a breach of Baku's internationally recognized sovereignty over the disputed territory.

Dozens of foreign dignitaries have been declared personae non gratae in Azerbaijan for ignoring these warnings.

Last week, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry blacklisted four members of France's parliament who toured the territory and called for international recognition of its independence.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a brutal six-year war over the Armenian-majority enclave that only ended with a cease-fire in 1994, but Nagorno-Karabakh's final status remains unresolved and the situation in and around the enclave remains volatile.