Azerbaijan’s flag carrier Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) operated this week the first flight using Armenian airspace after more than three decades.
The passenger flight departed from Azerbaijan’s capital Baku and traveled to the country’s southwestern Nakhchivan exclave on Wednesday, according to local media.
"This step demonstrates Azerbaijan's resolute readiness to unblock transport communications in the region, which meets the interests of all border countries," AZAL said in a statement.
“Changing the route of the Baku-Nakhchivan-Baku flight will also lead to a reduction in the flight time in this direction, as well as a decrease in fuel consumption during the flight," the airline explained.
AZAL reported that its passenger aircraft flew over Armenia’s territory, adding Azerbaijan has also unlocked its airspace for Armenian civil aviation. Based on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules, the airspace of the region and all existing routes are now open for the flights, according to AZAL.
Armenia and Azerbaijan had been in an armed conflict for nearly 30 years over the Karabakh (Garabagh) region, which is an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan. Armenia launched a full-blown military aggression against Azerbaijan following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. The bloody war lasted until a ceasefire was reached in 1994 and saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing policy conducted by Armenia.
The war led to the cessation of all kinds of connection, including land and air between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which also lost control of the Karabakh region’s airspace due to the Armenian occupation. Nakhchivan has been isolated from Azerbaijan's mainland as a result of Armenia’s closing all kinds of energy, electricity, and transport connections, including highways and railways to and from Nakhchivan in the early 1990s. AZAL has been operating round-trip flights between Baku and Nakhchivan via Iran’s territory.
On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict took a violent turn after Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During the counter-attack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10 by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.
The document called for the implementation of various issues of regional significance, including the restoration of all economic and transport links. The resumption of Azerbaijan flights via Armenia’s airspace is seen as the fulfillment of obligations taken under the statement. Now, AZAL can use all existing routes for the flights to Nakhchivan, including the airways passing through Armenia and Iran.
In the meantime, on Tuesday, the Iranian authorities have reportedly informed their Azerbaijani counterparts about the closure of the country's airspace for the transit of military cargo to Nakhchivan.