How long does it take to build and commission a new airport? Especially, in the 21st century, with its stringent requirements for everything from navigation equipment and terminals to materials and runway coating. In November 2020, the most well-known European long-term construction, the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, finally began operations in Germany. In fact, construction works started in 2006, with the planned commissioning date set for 2011. But the actual launch of operations took place only in November 2020, with the construction costs increased from 2 to 6.5 billion euros.
News from Azerbaijan are completely different, however. On September 5, 2021, the first aircraft, AZAL’s Airbus А-340 landed at the Fuzuli International Airport. All aircraft of Azerbaijan’s national carrier have own proper names. For this one, the chosen name was Garabagh. At the same time, two cargo Boeings of Silk Way airline also landed at the airport. Sure enough, there was no red-ribbon-cutting ceremony on the runway, but this did not make the ceremony itself worse. “The construction of the airport began this year. I said that the Fuzuli International Airport will be put into operation in the same year. Perhaps, no any other airport in the world has been built at such an accelerated rate,” President Ilham Aliyev said.
Indeed, Azerbaijan has something to be proud of. The new airport was built in just nine months. Until October 17, 2020, these lands were under Armenian occupation. After the liberation of Fuzuli, there was nothing here: no infrastructure, no roads, no electricity, no water. Only devastated land, ruins of houses, and minefields. And now there is a new flashy terminal, new state-of-the-art navigation equipment, a runway capable of receiving Airbuses and Boeings... And this is just the beginning.
Perhaps, we need to make a small remark. Armenian occupation of Garabagh lasted for more than 25 years. Great changes have taken place in Azerbaijan during this period. Moreover, as it was repeatedly noted in Azerbaijan, everything on the previously occupied and now liberated lands has been destroyed, plundered, and desecrated, including houses, infrastructure, industrial enterprises, museums, mosques, and cemeteries... Mine clearance of the area is still ongoing. In such a situation, it is impossible to get on a bus, come to Fuzuli, and start living as before, even theoretically. This means that for the return of internally displaced persons, a huge prep works need to be done. It is not only about demining the area. We need to re-create the infrastructure, and logistics. And most importantly, we need jobs and a robust economic environment for businesses.
Experts argue that the new airport, together with the Victory Road leading to Shusha, should become an important element for the development of tourism in the region, with two international airports in East Zangezur, in Lachin and Zangilan. Certainly, they will also work for cargo transportation, especially with the current level of development of air cargo transportation in Azerbaijan. Silk Way Airlines, which has already become an internationally recognised cargo carrier of Azerbaijan, is the largest cargo terminal in the CIS with a hub at the Heydar Aliyev Airport. The experience of the company will definitely be used in Garabagh, where they already breed buffaloes and produce cheese according to Italian technology.
A different view
It is not surprising that the launch of the new airport in Fizuli was closely monitored in Yerevan.
Probably, one could expect that the situation would be interpreted from a military point of view. After all, any airport has a dual purpose a priori. During the 44-day war, Azerbaijani regional airports have thus solved many problems. With the launch of three new airports in the liberated Garabagh and Eastern Zangezur, drawing the most serious conclusions is quite natural.
But on the other side of the contact line they draw attention not only to the military component of these airports. Many local observers recall the infamous Stepanakert Airport, wondering how Azerbaijan could launch an airport in Fuzuli in less than a year, while Armenia failed to launch one in Khankendi (Stepanakert)? Here is an emotional quote from one of the popular Armenian Telegram channels: “Our enemy has completed at least ten infrastructure projects on these lands in under a year. The road to Shushi (Shusha - R+), tunnels through the Hadrut and Mravsky (Murovdagh - R+) mountains, airport in Fuzuli, etc. During 30 years after the war, the only major infrastructure project that comes to my mind is the road through Karvachar (Kelbajar - R+), thanks to the All-Armenian Foundation and God knows how much corruption...”
You know the answer, don’t you? Infrastructure projects require large investments. And confidence that you will not have to leave or escape from these lands. Deep in their hearts, both in Yerevan and in Khankendi and in the Armenian diaspora, they knew that there was no chance of making the occupation legitimate in the long term. As a result, there were enough shouting from those who love debating about the ‘self-determination of Artsakh’ instead of investing their hard-earned drams, dollars, euros or rubles here. The only exception, however, was the business of plundering the occupied lands. But eventually, it also came to a halt...
Primarily, it is the small number of civilians living in that part of Garabagh, which is currently controlled by Russian peacekeepers, that analyse the economic news from Azerbaijan. There is an increasing number of those who ask themselves an understandable question: what’s next? Especially taking into account the contrast between the restoration strategy initiated by Azerbaijan and the sad economic realities in this piece of land, and Armenia itself.
Financial interpretation of the failed Miatsum
Analyses of military, political, and diplomatic realities concerning Garabagh became a priority these days unduly overshadowing the economic issues. A story that hit the headlines of the Armenian media also confirmed this. Isaura Balasanyan (32F) with four children, who lived in Shusha during the occupation, decided to go from Khankendi to Shusha to surrender to the Azerbaijanis. But the woman’s move had no logical conclusion, as she was detained by the peacekeepers and handed over to the Armenian side. According to her story, after the war she moved to Khankendi, where she was given an apartment on the first floor of a hostel. She had to pay 100,000 drams (a little more than $200) per month. But soon the landlord raised the fee to 150,000. Balasanyan has tried to solve the problem knocking the doors of authorities for help, but everywhere she was told to come the next day. Finally, she decided to ‘surrender to Azerbaijanis’.
It is arguable whether Balasanyan expected to materialise her plans, or whether she hoped to impress the local elite and bargain for a better place for herself. It is important that the top of the separatists in Khankendi regularly and proudly announce the ‘construction of houses’ for ‘refugees’ from Shusha and Hadrut, while they are still living in rented apartments. They claim that the refugees are paid compensation, but the landlords are rising the rental fees. In fact, the loud statements of local authorities on ‘empathy’, ‘doing a favour’, ‘helping each other’, and so on only show that the Armenian side has neither money nor a desire to solve the social problems of their fellow residents.
And it is worth exclaiming the question of whether the leadership of separatists can manage keeping the Armenian population on that patch of land.