The blue-and-white bird-like structure of Nagorno Karabakh’s airport perches in the Caucasus Mountains like a shining, defiant emblem of national pride. However, there are no passengers – and no aircraft. The only way to get there remains a six-hour drive from Yerevan through the mountains. The reason: any flights that land at or leave this airport will come under fire from Azerbaijani troops, The Irish Times writes.
The airport, destroyed in the war, reopened four years ago. Dmitri Atbashyan, head of the statelet’s civil aviation authority, said that in 2011, they wanted to start flights, but Azerbaijan intervened – they said they would shoot down the aircraft. The threats are not exaggerated. Last year three military personnel died after Azerbaijani troops shot down their helicopter, The Irish Times points.
According to the article, Atbashyan is proud to show off the airport – and tout its advantages as a flying school, in which lessons involve close-range sorties. “You can get your pilot’s licence here for $6,000 [€5,400]; in the US it will cost you $31,000. And we have some of the best pilots,” he says.
As if on cue, instructor Samuel Tavadyan, an ex-military man, starts up a small Zenith plane and takes off. After landing, he jumps out and walks away as though he has parked a car, The Irish Times writes.
According to the article, the airport’s staff are kept on the payroll and all systems remain running “because with such sophisticated machines, it would be too expensive to turn them off”, says Atbashyan. He stresses that every aspect of the facility complies with international standards.
“The UN Declaration of Human Rights grants everyone freedom of movement,” he says. “This shouldn’t depend on the status of the country of that person.”
As the President Sahakyan concedes, it is not easy to run a nation at war over its very existence. “Of course we think we have to settle this issue with our neighbour,” he tells The Irish Times. “We want to discuss, we want to negotiate. Unfortunately, the other side is rejecting our proposals.”