British MP: Commissioning airport in Khojaly threatens not only region, but whole Europe
Azerbaijan, Baku, Jan. 30 / Trend E. Tariverdiyeva /
While the peace talks under the auspices of the OSCE continue, there have recently been suggestions that the Armenian authorities in the breakaway region plan to re-open the airport at Khojaly, Conservative MP, Energy and Climate Change Select Committee member and chair of the Azerbaijan All-Party Parliamentary Group Chris Pincher wrote in his article on the website of famous newspaper HuffPost Politics.
"However, most experts suggest that the potential opening violates international law, including several provisions of the Chicago Convention - in particular, articles 1, 2, 5, 6, 10-16, 24 and 68," Pincher said. "Legally, Khojaly airport cannot operate, as unauthorised flights through Azerbaijani airspace are not permitted without that government's sanction."
This is unacceptable without the consent of the Azerbaijani government. Any violation may cause unpredictable consequences, Pincher said.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the European Civil Aviation Conference (ICAC) also support the position of Azerbaijan on this issue.
"But leaving all the legal implications aside, such a step could only undermine precisely what the international community is working hard for - slow and steady progress through peace talks and confidence building measures," Pincher said. "So it is not surprising that the international reaction to the proposed re-opening was unequivocal in its condemnation."
In their statement, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs expressed caution about the operation of flights to and from the Khojaly airport, saying they could not be used to support any claim of a change in the current status of Nagorno-Karabakh under international law, Pincher said.
A statement from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said Armenia's actions could damage the negotiated process on peaceful settlement, thus straining the tense situation in the region, Pincher said.
The Norwegian foreign minister, who visited the region recently, was even more forthright in his warning.
"Norway condemns carrying out flights from this airport," he said. "Armenia must not resort to provocative action."
"And as a member of the Commons Energy Select Committee I know how important Azerbaijan is to Europe's energy security, especially in the wake of the infamous Russian-Ukrainian gas rows," Pincher said. "Should these latest tensions spiral into full-scale conflict, the consequences will be felt not just by the Caucasus region, but by the whole of Europe. And as we live in a world of complex economic interconnections, those consequences could easily wash up on British shores."
There is, however, another reason why Azerbaijan feels hurt at Armenia's plans, Pincher said.
The airport in question is located at the site of the most notorious massacre in the 1988-1994 conflict when, on the 26th February 1992, 613 civilians of the town of Khojaly were massacred by Armenian forces, Pincher added.
On Feb. 25-26 February, 1992, Armenian occupation forces together with the 366th infantry regiment of Soviet troops stationed in Khankendi (earlier Stepanakert) fired on the Azerbaijani town of Khojali that had been under siege for months; within one night the town was razed to the ground. Some 613 people were killed, including 63 children, 106 women and 70 old men. A total of 1,000 civilians were disabled during the genocide. Eight families were annihilated, 130 children lost one parent and 25 lost both. Additionally, 1275 innocent residents were taken hostage, while the fate of 150 remains unknown.
"No one disputes the right of civilians to free movement," Pincher said. "But surely the right time to start talking about re-opening the airport is once the hostilities are over, and when the people who were expelled from their homes and who currently languish in displaced person camps are given the chance to return to their homes."
But despite four UN Security Council resolutions, Armenia steadfastly refuses to stop its military occupation of the territory and to allow hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees to return home.
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 per cent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - Russia, France and the U.S. - are currently holding peace negotiations.
Armenia has not yet implemented the U.N. Security Council's four resolutions on the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.