An Armenian travel agency announced on Tuesday the imminent launch of landmark direct flights from Yerevan to the southeastern Turkish city of Van that used to be mostly populated by Armenians.
Ashot Soghomonian, head of Narekavank Tour, said his private firm and its business partners in Turkey have already secured all necessary permissions from the aviation authorities in both countries and tentatively scheduled the first flight for April 3. BoraJet, a private Turkish airline, has been contracted to fly between Yerevan and Van twice a week, he said.
Located on the eastern shore of an eponymous lake, Van is an ancient city with an estimated 500,000 mainly Kurdish residents. The city and surrounding areas had a sizable Armenian population until the World War One-era mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Unlike the Armenian communities in virtually all other parts of the crumbling empire, many Armenians of Van survived what historians consider the first genocide of the 20th century after putting up an armed resistance to Ottoman troops and being evacuated by the Russian army in 1915-1918. Hundreds of thousands of their descendants live in modern-day Armenia.
Soghomonian confirmed that the flight service will primarily cater to Armenians curious to see Van and other historic sites in eastern Turkey that had for centuries been part of Armenian kingdoms and principalities.
Soghomonian’s travel agency specializes in taking tourists to the areas which Armenians still commonly refer to as “Western Armenia” by land, via neighboring Georgia.
“There are quite a lot of people willing to go to Van and see the [10th century] Surp Khach church on [the island of] Akhtamar or Ani or Kars or Mush but don’t go there because the journey by land is long,” said the Narekavank Tour director.
Surp Khach (Holy Cross) is the most famous and well-preserved Armenian monument remaining in eastern Turkey. The Istanbul Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church was allowed to hold religious services there once a year after the church’s $1.5 million renovation financed by the Turkish government and completed in 2007.
According to Soghomonian, the flight organizers also expect many Turks and Kurds to make use of the service. “We think that there will also be a quite serious inflow of tourists into Armenia from the other side and that will be very good,” he told reporters.
Plans for Yerevan-Van flights were already announced by a business association operating in the Turkish city about two years ago. The Turkish government reportedly blocked their launch slated for September 2011, however. Some Van-based businessmen openly criticized that move.
Arsen Ghazarian, head of Armenia’s largest business association promoting closer commercial ties with Turkey, said in November 2012 that the plans are back on track and should come to fruition soon.
Turkish-Armenian commercial flights have until now been carried out only between Yerevan and Istanbul.