“More than 3,000 foreigners visited Nagorno-Karabakh in the first half of 2011, a 49 percent increase from the same period of 2010,” the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) said in a statement.
“Compared to the same period of the previous year [2009,] the first half of 2010 was also marked by a significant 45 per cent increase in tourist numbers,” it added.
The official figures do not include residents of Armenia, who also appear to be travelling to Karabakh in larger numbers these days.
According to the statement, the foreigners who visited the once war-ravaged territory this year are citizens of over two dozen countries, notably the United States, France, Russia and Iran. The latter have sizable ethnic Armenian communities.
The statement also spoke of a growing tourist influx from more unlikely places like Japan, China and New Zealand.
Karabakh’s main tourist attractions are mountainous scenery, medieval Armenian monasteries as well as a cave complex thought to be the site of one of the most ancient proto-human habitations in Eurasia. They are located several dozen kilometers away from the heavily militarized “line of contact” separating Karabakh Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Small arms skirmishes between them are reported on a virtually daily basis.
The NKR ministry noted with satisfaction that foreigners are showing “increasing interest” in Karabakh despite “obstacles created by the authorities of Azerbaijan.”
The Azerbaijani authorities regard private or business trips to Karabakh not authorized by them as a breach of Baku’s internationally recognized sovereignty over the disputed territory. Dozens of foreign dignitaries have been declared personae no grata in Azerbaijan for ignoring these warnings.
Just last week, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry blacklisted four members of France’s parliament who toured Karabakh and called for international recognition of its independence.
The NKR statement expressed confidence that the forthcoming reopening of Karabakh’s sole airport will “greatly facilitate” further development of the local tourism industry. A senior Karabakh official told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) earlier this month that its ongoing reconstruction will be completed by the end of September.
The airport located 8 kilometers east of Stepanakert was shut down in late 1991, at the start of Armenian-Azerbaijani war. Karabakh’s transport communication with the outside world has since been carried out by land, via Armenia.