STEPANAKERT, NKR—Azerbaijan renewed its threats to shoot down civilian aircraft that carry out flights between Armenia and the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR) without its permission.
Authorities in Baku warned of “corresponding measures” on July 16, just days after international mediators discussed the matter during their latest tour of the Karabagh conflict zone.
In a statement issued on Fri., July 13, the U.S., Russian, and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group said they “received renewed assurances from the sides that they will reject any threat or use of force against civil aircraft, pursue the matter through diplomatic steps, and refrain from politicizing the issue.”
“The co-chairs reaffirmed that operation of this airport cannot be used to support any claim of a change in the status of Nagorno-Karabagh, and urged the sides to act in accordance with international law and consistent with current practice for flights over their territory,” the statement added without elaborating.
The Azerbaijani State Civil Aviation Administration said that the planned Yerevan-Stepanakert flights would constitute an “invasion” of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized airspace and that “taking corresponding measures in connection with that is inevitable.”
“According to international norms, Azerbaijan has sovereign rights to its airspace,” a spokesman for the government body told the APA news agency. “Those who enter that airspace without permission shall be considered to have breached the air borders.”
The Azerbaijani government first voiced such threats, in more explicit terms, early last year when authorities in Karabagh announced the upcoming reconstruction of the territory’s sole airport located near Stepanakert, the capital. Baku seemed to have backed away from such threats in April 2011 after being criticized by mediating powers.
The launch of the first commercial flights to and from Karabagh in two decades has been repeatedly postponed since then, even though the airport’s reconstruction was essentially completed by the end of 2011. A newly established Karabagh airline reportedly acquired two aircraft for Yerevan-Stepanakert flights earlier this year. An official in Stepanakert told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) last month that the flight service is likely to be launched before the end of this summer.