Direct flights could be launched early next year from Yerevan to a city in southeastern Turkey that used to be mostly populated by Armenians, an Armenian business leader announced on Tuesday.
“In effect, we have made sure that the aviation authorities in Armenia and Turkey have given the green light to direct Yerevan-Van flights,” said Arsen Ghazarian, the head of Armenia’s leading business association.
“We, Armenian businessmen, are now only hampered by the need to acquire a commercially viable plane. We wanted to do that this autumn … but it didn’t work out. Let’s hope that a properly sized airplane not operating at a loss will launch the flights next spring.”
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 many 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.
Plans for direct flights to and from Yerevan were already announced by a business association in Van last year. The Turkish government reportedly blocked their launch slated for September 2011, however.
Some Van-based businessmen openly criticized that move when they attended a U.S.-sponsored Turkish-Armenian business forum that was organized in Yerevan by Ghazarian’s Armenian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs last month. They said the one-hour flights would lead to a greater influx of visitors from Armenia and thus benefit the local tourism industry.
Ghazarian, who also co-heads the Turkish-Armenian Business Council promoting closer commercial ties between the two nations, likewise argued that the planned charter service would make it much easier for Armenians to see what remains of Armenian cultural heritage in and around Van.
The most famous and well-preserved Armenian monument in the area is the 10th century church of Surp Khach (Holy Cross) perched on the legendary Akhtamar island in Lake Van. 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.
Regular flights have until now been carried out only between Yerevan and Istanbul.