President Serzh Sarkisian dismissed on Thursday Azerbaijan’s threats to shoot down civil aircraft over Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that he himself will fly to the disputed region to inaugurate its newly rebuilt airport.
Sarkisian branded Azerbaijani officials who recently voiced those threats as “sick people” and compared them with international terrorists.
“There is no need to comment on these statements,” he told reporters. “But I will make my statement. I, the president of Armenia, am going to be the first passenger on those flights.”
Sarkisian referred to a regular flight service between Yerevan and Stepanakert which is due to be launched on May 9, during the planned reopening of Karabakh’s sole airport closed in 1991.
Arif Mammadov, the director of Azerbaijan's Civil Aviation Administration, said earlier this month that his government has formally notified the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that it does not authorize any flights to and from Karabakh. He warned that defiance of that band could lead to “the physical destruction of airplanes landing in that territory.”
The ethnic Armenian leadership of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) condemned the threat and warned that any attempt to thwart the planned flights would meet with an “adequate response” from the Karabakh Armenian military. It said the reopening of the airport will go ahead as planned.
The Azerbaijani threats also prompted serious concern from the U.S., Russian and French mediators trying to broker a peaceful solution to the Karabakh dispute. In a joint statement last week, they said they “consider unacceptable any use or threat of force, including against civil aircraft.”
U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza reportedly suggested this week that the two sides “come together and discuss these issues” before the airport’s inauguration.