Landmark flight to occupied Cyprus

BAKU (AFP) – An Azerbaijani airliner was headed to the Turkish-occupied part of northern Cyprus yesterday in the first direct commercial flight to the breakaway state in three decades, the privately owned Baku-based carrier said. «A group of businessmen will depart from Baku at 9 p.m. (1600 GMT) on a chartered flight,» said Imair legal adviser Cavid Heydarli. Airline officials have said they may begin regular flights between Baku and north Nicosia’s Tymbou (Ercan in Turkish) Airport as early as September. Until now, the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus has been entirely dependent on Turkey for its air links to the outside world. All flights serving Ercan or north Cyprus’s second airport of Lefkoniko (Gecitkale) near the eastern city of Famagusta have previously made an obligatory stopover in Turkey, the only country which recognizes the Turkish-held north of the island. The decision to launch direct flights between Baku and northern Cyprus was announced by Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, on June 30 in talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as part of a bid to set up ties with northern Cyprus. In addition to direct flights, Azerbaijan, a key ally of Turkey, also announced last month that it would start accepting Turkish-Cypriot passports, becoming only the second state after Turkey to do so. In order to travel abroad, Turkish Cypriots need to acquire internationally accepted passports – some get them from Turkey, others from former colonial power Great Britain. Others have obtained passports from the internationally recognized Cyprus government. Both Azerbaijani moves have been hailed by Turkish-Cypriot leaders as steps that will serve to break the international isolation of their breakaway state, which depends heavily on Turkey for survival. Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and other Turkish-Cypriot politicians will meet the Azeri delegation, who will also hold talks with Turkish-Cypriot businessmen before leaving the island on Sunday. Baku’s decisions appear to have angered Greece, the Cyprus government’s main foreign backer. Following Imair’s announcement that it would open the air link earlier this month, moves by a Greek telecommunications operator to establish a partnership with an operator in Azerbaijan’s rival Armenia have been viewed by the Azeri press as retaliation. A story headlined «Greece answers Azerbaijan for northern Cyprus» by the Trend news agency on July 22 detailed a partnership agreement between Greece’s Intrakom and an Armenian provider that operates in the contested Nagorno Karabakh enclave of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a war for control over mainly ethnic Armenian Nagorno Karabakh in the early 1990s.

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