Armenia-Turkey: Another case of outrage from Azerbaijan as Yerevan-Van flight set for commencement

Another initiative in Armenian-Turkish relations has caused a fit of jealousy in Azerbaijan that has accused its ethnic cousin of supporting an enemy state.

After negotiations that lasted more than four years, April 3 will see the commencement of the first flight from Yerevan to the historical Armenian city of Van, which is located in the territory of modern-day Turkey.

Officials in Azerbaijan have already slammed Turkey for allowing such a project that they said will only benefit Armenia, which is seen by Baku as an aggressor country.

Commercial flights between Yerevan and Van indeed are supposed to result in greater activity on Armenia’s tourist market, as well as in the adjacent province in Turkey, considering the great interest that exists among Armenians towards their historical monuments and other sights in and around Van.

The flight will be carried out on a 68-seat European-make aircraft designed for short-distance flights belonging to the Turkish airline, Borajet, and will be operated by the Armenian Narekavank Tour travel company.

Narekavank Tour company co-founder Armen Hovhannisyan told ArmeniaNow that every year hundreds of Armenians visit Van and the availability of a direct Yerevan-Van flight is likely to increase this tourist flow, as many now are reluctant to go because of the long and tiring journey that it currently involves.

Hovhannisyan says that reaching Van from Yerevan by a land route (considering that the Turkish-Armenian border is closed) takes 18-20 hours and costs approximately 25,000-30,000 drams (about $60-75), while the flight, although more expensive (in April and May a roundtrip ticket will cost $200, and $250 for other months), but will take only 40 minutes to reach the place. Flights will be available twice a week, Wednesdays and Sundays.

“This flight has nothing to do with politics, this is pure tourism. The main goal of the flight is to organize trips and pilgrimages for Armenians to their historical homeland. This is the best chance for them to go there,” said the travel agent, adding that at this moment only 10 people have actually booked air tickets to Van, but expectations are that the flights will sell well.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with regional ally Azerbaijan that was suffering heavy defeats in the Karabakh war waged against ethnic Armenians.

Armenia and Turkey, which also have different perspectives on history, including the 1915 massacres of Armenian nationals of the Ottoman Empire, which Ankara refuses to recognize as genocide, have not had diplomatic relations since then. Attempts to achieve rapprochement in 2008-2009 suffered a setback against the backdrop of protests from Baku about a possible Turkish-Armenian normalization.

And in the most recent manifestation of Azeri “jealousy” over communications between Yerevan and Ankara, a number of Baku officials raised questions about Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s congratulations sent to his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan on his reelection last month, causing the Turkish Foreign Ministry to provide a clarification in this regard.

In an article late last month California Courier publisher Harut Sassounian examined the trend. He also cited another instance of an Azeri reaction. “No sooner had Turkish Airlines announced that it would distribute a copy of Agos, a bilingual Armenian-Turkish weekly newspaper, to its international passengers, that Fikret Sadikov, an Azeri professor and political analyst, objected to its dissemination, calling it an ‘absolutely absurd and irresponsible gesture’,” wrote Sassounian.

And despite the fact that a few days ago Turkish Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ismail Alper Joshkun gave assurances that the operation of the Yerevan-Van flight is a private commercial project and that Turkey’s stance on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has not changed, the Azerbaijani party continues to oppose the commencement of the flight.

Ali Hasanov, Head of the Department on Social Political Issues of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration, claimed late last week that the flight between Yerevan and Van supports a country that is an enemy of Azerbaijan.

“Azerbaijan has stated on many occasions that we are sensitive to any contact with Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, particularly when these contacts are made by friendly countries,” said Hasanov. “We are twice as hurt when it is done by countries we share strategic interests with.”

Deputy Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Sergey Minasyan told ArmeniaNow that such seemingly ‘irrational scenes’ of jealousy towards the ‘elder brother’ Turkey from Azerbaijan are, in fact, a display of some ‘rational fear’ that sooner or later these small steps will lead to some improvement in Turkish-Armenian relations and removal of the current blockade of Armenia’s communications.

“One should not expect the Yerevan-Van project to become a really big event, but it will certainly become an additional means for Ankara and partly for Yerevan to at least maintain the level of their existing relationships and wait for the domestic or regional political situations to enable them to attempt to restore or resume their diplomatic steps towards rapprochement,” said the political analyst.