By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian today has confirmed the news reports about the release of six Armenian pilots jailed on controversial coup charges in Equatorial Guinea.
The news reported from the western African country by Agence France-Presse and broadcast by RFE/RL earlier today was met with celebration at the office of Armenian aviation veteran Dmitri Atbashian.
“This news was a great joy for us,” Atbashian told RFE/RL, expressing the opinion that Armenian pilots should abstain from dubious job offers abroad in the future.
“One day there will be work for them in Armenia,” he added.
The families of the pilots do not yet know whether their loved ones have actually been freed and when they will arrive in Yerevan.
They haven’t seen them for over a year after the six-member aircrew of an Armenian transport plane hired by a German airfreight company were arrested in Equatorial Guinea last March and later sentenced to between 14 and 24 years’ imprisonment on charges of involvement in a reported plot to topple the local autocratic president.
Captain Ashot Karapetian’s wife, Naira Harutyunyan, has not yet decided what her first words will be to greet her husband.
“My daughter asked me not to faint when I see him,” she said.
Naira is grateful to the Foreign Ministry officials and Russian-Armenian businessman Ara Abrahamian who have worked towards the release of the pilots as well as others who stood next to her family throughout the ordeal.
But she says the health of the pilots was severely damaged while they were in African jail and therefore an account has been opened at Unibank to raise funds for their medical rehabilitation.
Asked whether she wanted to say anything to the president of Equatorial Guinea, Naira Harutyunyan said: “Our president wrote to him twice and there was no response. I don’t think there will be any response this time. God be with him.”
In a statement issued today the Foreign Ministry of Armenia expressed its gratitude to the authorities of Equatorial Guinea for pardoning the Armenian pilots and “for understanding and humanitarian approach shown in this case.”
A Foreign Ministry official has left for the Equatorial Guinean capital of Malabo to organize the return of Armenian pilots on the spot.
All the six Armenian pilots pleaded not guilty to the accusations throughout their trial.