- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 26, 2004

Grounded in a Distant Land : Families of detained airline crew wonder what's happening in Equatorial Guinea

Last week the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia confirmed that six citizens of Armenia are among 20 foreigners arrested in Equatorial Guinea and accused of conspiring to overthrow the government of that country.

Ashot Karapetyan, captain of the AN-12 crew, second pilot Samvel Darbinyan, aeronautical engineer Ashot Simonyan, navigator Samvel Matchkalyan, flight engineer Razmik Khachatryan and technician-engineer Suren Muradyan, have been in custody since March 9.

According to the Central Administrative Board of the Civil Aviation of Armenia, the crew works for Tiga Air and were running chartered trade flights inside Central Africa.

But authorities in Equatorial Guinea insist that the flight crew were part of a planned coup to overthrow President Teodoro Nguema.

 As Armenia has no representation in that country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia has called upon its allies in Africa to look to monitor the situation and assure that the Armenians are properly treated.

Meanwhile the crew's families in Yerevan have little information and considerable anxiety concerning their loved ones' whereabouts and condition.

“I have all my phone conversations with my husband registered,” says Nara Karapetyan, the captain's wife. “The last time I talked to him on March 5, it was 3 p.m. He told me everything was normal and on March 9 scheduled flights would start again.”

The couple agreed to speak again on March 8, but when Nara called, her husband did not answer, renewing her anxiety.

“When I was talking with my husband by phone (March 5), he told me they had some problems. I didn't know who he was talking about, customers or local authorities. As phone conversations with foreign countries are expensive we didn't talk much,” says the wife of Karapetyan, Nara Hayrapetyan.

For about 15 days the wives couldn't get any information about their husbands and didn't know even if they were alive.

All they were hearing was news reports that their husbands were involved in an international incident and were part of an attempted coup.

“We want to know one thing, are they alive and are they provided with medical assistance? We want them to return alive, it is important,” says Khachatryan's wife, Aghavni.

On Monday of this week, the International Red Cross told families that there is no threat to the crews' lives and that they are still in Malabo . Next Tuesday, representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are scheduled to accompany Red Cross officials on a flight to Malabo to further investigate the matter.

“They are among the best pilots of all times in Armenia,” says a friend, helicopter captain Vardges Mnatsakanyan. “They are professional pilots and honest people. They are people, who during the war were keeping Karabakh on their wings. Everybody knows them including authorities.”

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Sex for a Song? Culture Clash?

Muslim women make their way past an Opera Square billboard that advertises "Viagra", a Russian pop trio of women whose music is less interesting than their lingerie-clad performances. Just another day in Yerevan.



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