By Emil Danielyan and Margarit Yesayan
The Armenian authorities said Friday that two employees of the local British Airways office have asked for asylum in Britain to avoid punishment for disobeying orders from the Yerevan airport administration and “disrupting” an official ceremony to welcome the return of Catholicos Garegin II.
The two Armenian nationals, whose identity is still not known, boarded a London-bound BA flight on Thursday after being allowed to leave the country. The authorities in Yerevan confirmed reports that they feared “persecution” by Armenian security agencies.
The foreign ministry and the national civil aviation agency claimed in a joint statement that the pair told the crew of a BA airplane, which had just arrived from London, to ignore orders from the control tower to stop in front of the VIP lounge at Zvartnots airport. Garegin, on his way back from a trip to Britain, was due to be met there by senior officials from the government and the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The BA employees, the statement said, entered the plane as soon as it docked to the regular airport gate and immediately contacted British Ambassador to Armenia Timothy Jones to ask for “personal security guarantees.” Referring the request to the authorities, Jones demanded that the guarantees be given personally by President Robert Kocharian but later accepted verbal assurances from Deputy Foreign Minister Ruben Shugarian, according to the statement.
The envoy then asked the authorities to allow the two Armenians to leave for London on the same BA flight for further questioning by the British authorities, official Yerevan said, adding that it did not object to their departure.
Officials at the British embassy and the British Airways office in Yerevan refused to comment. According to the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency, BA officials said they are not aware of the incident.
The Armenian foreign ministry said it received a diplomatic note from the Foreign Office in London on Friday which described the incident as “technical” and proposed that it be sorted out by Armenian and British aviation officials. For its part, the Armenian civil aviation agency accused the BA pilots of violating the operational agreement between the British carrier and Zvartnots airport, but added that it is ready to sort the incident out through “consultations.”