Armenia on Thursday condemned Azerbaijan’s renewed threats to forcibly halt planned commercial flights to Nagorno-Karabakh and warned of “adequate” retaliation against Baku.
The Azerbaijani government reiterated on Wednesday its strong opposition to the reopening of a newly reconstructed airport near the Karabakh capital Stepanakert. Defense Ministry spokesman Eldar Sabiroglu said the Armenian side’s plans to launch a regular flight service between Stepanakert and Yerevan without Baku’s permission would violate international law.
“Second, one must take into account the fact that we are in a state of war,” news agencies quoted Sabiroglu as saying. “And third, if they [the Armenians] resort to that step, they will get an adequate response. That is, the Azerbaijani army will perform its duties.”
Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly issued such warnings before. Some of them have openly stated that the Azerbaijani military would shoot down civilian aircraft entering Karabakh.
The authorities in Stepanakert and Yerevan have brushed aside such threats. General Movses Hakobian, the commander of Karabakh’s Armenia-backed army, warned earlier this week that his forces are capable of destroying air targets deep inside Azerbaijani territory.
“This year, for instance, the [Karabakh] Defense Army’s air-defense forces tracked 2,226 flights in Azerbaijan’s airspace,” Hakobian told journalists. “Namely, they flew within our firing range and could have been shot down.”
“I go to Yerevan very often, and in order to reassure our public I promise to fly there every time,” after the launch of Stepanakert-Yerevan flights, he said.
Artsrun Hovannisian, the Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman, cited Hakobian’s comments when asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) to comment on the latest Azerbaijani threats. He also said any use of force against civilian aircraft would run counter to international law.
“We are always ready to take corresponding actions,” said Koryun Nahapetian, chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security. “That could take the form of statements or appropriate military actions. So rest assured that our authorities are doing everything in this regard, and there is no need to be concerned.”
International mediators seeking a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict said in July that they have “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.”
Although the Karabakh airport’s reconstruction was essentially completed recently year, it remains unclear when it will start functioning. The Karabakh authorities have repeatedly postponed the launch of the flights, citing technical problems.
The airport was closed in 1991 amid intensifying armed clashes in Karabakh that degenerated into a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war. Transport communication between Karabakh and the outside world has since been carried out by land, via Armenia.