Vol. 6, No. 3 (February 01, 2013)

Armenia’s plan for an airport in the occupied territories violates international law, undermines the peace process, and offends memory of Khojaly victims

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

Yerevan’s plan to open an airport at Khojaly in the occupied territories is a direct violation of international law as embodied in the Chicago Convention that governs air travel, undermines the peace process as many governments around the world have warned, and deeply offends the memory of the victims of the Khojaly tragedy in February 1992, which Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani diaspora groups are working hard to have declared a genocide by the international community.

These are all points Azerbaijani officials, including senior members of the Presidential Administration and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, have repeatedly made over the last month.  (For these statements, see the Chronology of Azerbaijan Foreign Policy at the end of this issue of Azerbaijan in the World).  But Armenia and its closest allies seem set to go ahead anyway, arguing as Yerevan does that an airport is necessary as a confidence-building measure for the Armenians of Karabakh or seeking to shift the blame for any problems to the Azerbaijanis by suggesting as Nikolay Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty, has done that Azerbaijan will “shoot down” even civilian planes that might make use of such a facility.

Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov has provided a straightforward comment about the situation, its meaning for Baku and the international community, and Azerbaijan’s response if Yerevan goes ahead with its plans in violation of international law, the interests of peace in the South Caucasus, and the memory of those who died at the hands of Armenian forces in Khojaly. [1] 

Azerbaijan, Azimov told news outlets in Baku, “will not allow illegal flights to take place in its air space,” but at the same time and “of course, Azerbaijan does not intend to shoot down civil aircraft.” His remarks come in response to Bordyuzha’s statement that Baku might do exactly that, a statement that Azimov suggested might be nothing more than a joke.  Instead, the Azerbaijani diplomat noted that the Chicago Convention, which governs air traffic around the world, provides for a specific set of rules, “which are recognized by the Azerbaijani side,” but which Armenia is ignoring.

No country can send its aircraft, civilian or not, over the territory of another without the latter’s consent, Azimov pointed out.  And if a country does so, then the country whose airspace is violated has the right to “force the violator to land at a specified airport.” These rules have been in place for more than 50 years, and consequently it is “unprofessional” for anyone and especially a diplomat from a third country to suggest that Azerbaijan would shoot down violators flying to or from an airport in the Armenian-occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

The fundamental fact of the case is that Armenia’s plans to open an airport in the occupied territories are a clear violation of international law.  Moreover, Azimov says, “the opening of an illegal air corridor means the occupation of the air space” of Azerbaijan.  Armenia has already occupied Azerbaijani territory and the opening of an air corridor would “add to this” the occupation of Azerbaijan’s air space.  But in addition, Azimov points out, these plans have “a political and ideological subtext,” one that clearly offends the “memory of the Azerbaijani victims who died at Khojaly in 1992.

Azimov says that in his opinion Armenia has taken this step in the pursuit of “other goals,” possibly including the torpedoing of talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  As US, French, and British diplomats have all pointed out, the Armenian plan to open the airport not only violates international law but creates new problems for the peace process. “Many governments,” Azimov concludes, “have appealed to Armenia with calls to refrain from such actions,” adds that he “hopes that Armenia will not take this step.”  

If Yerevan does, it should be clear to everyone who cares about international law and progress toward a settlement in the South Caucasus, and equally important, who does not.


[1] See http://vestikavkaza.ru/news/Azerbaydzhan-ne-budet-sbivat-armyanskie-samolyety-no-saditsya-v-KHodzhaly-ne-pozvolit.html (accessed 04 February 2013).