By Gohar Abrahamyan

News | 02.10.12 | 10:52

The first official flight from or to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's
(NKR) airport that has been repeatedly delayed during the past
year or so is likely to be delayed for "a little longer" despite
the announcement that the facility has already been "certified"
to start operations.

Enlarge Photo Chief architect of Stepanakert airport Tigran Barseghyan
(R) and political scientist Levon Shirinyan

Official reports several days ago said that the first flights from
and to the airport near Stepanakert would start this week. But
in an interview with ArmeniaNow on Monday chief of the NKR
government-affiliated civil aviation department Dmitry Adbashyan again
avoided giving a precise date for the official commencement of flights.

"On September 28, we received an official certificate about the
airport corresponding to international standards and the right to
service flights. Aircraft can land and take off from our airport,"
said Adbashyan, adding that the operation of the airport is very
important for Karabakh. "As an aviator, I think that if a country
has no airport, then it cannot have a full-fledged state."

The airport situated about 10 kilometers from NKR capital Stepanakert
was built in 1974 mainly to service flights from Yerevan and Baku. It
was turned into a military airfield during the early stage of the armed
conflict in Karabakh. The facility in fact has been idling since 1992.

In 2008, architect Tigran Barseghyan and his team started designing
the main building of what would become the new air gate of Karabakh -
in the shape of an eagle with open wings.

The architect says that the quality of construction is high and work
was completed according to schedule. The runway was broadened and
several hills adjacent to the runway were flattened for modern big
aircraft to be able to land and take off.

"About $5 million has been spent for the implementation of complex
work, and today as a facility the airport is ready for flights. But
the delay has been for different personnel-related, organizational
and technical matters, which are beyond the scope of design or
construction-related issues," says Barseghyan. The architect adds
that solutions provided for in the long-term design of the airport
make it suitable also for servicing international flights.

The airport building that occupies a total area of 1,200 square meters
will be able to accept 100 passengers per hour.

Flights are due to be carried out by the Artsakhavia state-run
enterprise. Initially the airport plans to service flights from Yerevan
to Stepanakert and back. Such a journey in one direction will take
about 35 minutes, and airfare will be approximately 15,000 drams
(about $38).

The official opening of the airport was supposed to take place still
on May 9, 2011, but it was delayed several times over what officials
explained were "purely technical reasons". Still, many believe that
there are political reasons behind the delay, in particular the uneasy
relations with Azerbaijan that has threatened to shoot down civilian
planes that appear in the airspace it believes to be its own.

But political analyst Levon Shirinyan thinks that Azerbaijan won't be
able to do anything to stop the airport from operating. "It will go
on fuming and try to prevent the airport from opening, but after it
opens, it will be unable to do anything," he says. Still, Shirinyan
says, the threats from Azerbaijan need to be properly assessed and
counteraction should be taken.

"The Artsakh Defense Army should be put on high alert. It is a
war of nerves. The side that manages to break the opponent's will,
will be able to solve the problem," says Shirinyan, adding that the
airport will surely be put into operation if such an announcement
has been made.

The analyst thinks that today is the most opportune moment for the
airport to be put into operation considering the tough steps taken by
Armenian diplomacy in the wake of the "Safarov Affair" in Azerbaijan.

Official Yerevan has sought an international condemnation of the
Azerbaijani leadership for the public glorification of a confessed
killer of an Armenian, Ramil Safarov, who was granted pardon in Baku
on August 31 shortly after being extradited from Hungary where he had
been serving a life sentence for axe-murdering an Armenian colleague
at a NATO-sponsored language course.

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian spoke about the Safarov
Affair from the high tribune of the United Nations in New York on
October 1, arguing that Azerbaijan is encouraging hatred towards
Armenians at the highest level of its leadership.