ANKARA (Reuters)—Turkey has canceled the first ever scheduled Turkish flights to Armenia, days before the first plane was due to take off, officials have said, following fierce opposition from Azerbaijan.
The twice-weekly flights between Turkey’s eastern city of Van and Yerevan were due to begin on April 3 and, encouraged by a U.S. push for rapprochement, were meant to boost bilateral tourism and trade.
But with just over a week until the first flight, and with tickets already on sale, Turkey’s civil aviation authority stepped in and ordered the flights to be suspended.
Officials at Turkey’s transport ministry confirmed the flights had been stopped but declined to give a reason. BoraJet, the private Turkish carrier set to fly the 45-minute route, also declined to comment on the stoppage.
One BoraJet official twice denied the Van-Yerevan flights had ever been planned, even though the route was still available as a booking option on the firm’s Web site on Monday.
Narekavank Tour, a Yerevan-based travel agency which has spent the last three years organising the flights together with a Turkish travel agency in Van, said the reason was political.
“The organizers were keen on staying away from politics. It is very sad and discouraging that Turkish authorities were not able to do the same and finally let politics interfere with this promising initiative,” it said in a statement.
Asked if he thought this was due to specific pressure from Azerbaijan, Armen Hovhannisyan, co-founder of Narekavank Tour, said: “Of course, it’s part of the whole formula, and maybe they have been working behind the scenes.”
Azerbaijan has voiced fierce opposition to the flights and last week Ali Hasanov, a senior official at the president’s office in Baku, said they amounted to support for “the occupant country” and only prolonged the “occupation”.
“When such things are done by countries, which share the same strategic interests with Azerbaijan, we take it twice as fervently. It’s not just our attitude, but an attitude of the whole Turkish society,” Hasanov told Reuters.
A Turkish foreign ministry official said he was aware the flights had been canceled but did not know the reason.