Photographer Mari Bastashevski has started an ambitious new investigative project, "State Business," which she calls "an art project about the conflict arms trade." And her first subject is a series of arms shipments which appeared to be headed for Nagorno-Karabakh:
In the spring of 2010 the arms tracking community had picked up on a number of suspicious flights headed for Armenia, 39 in total. The flights continued at even intervals well into February 2011. All of them were Ilyushin IL-76s. The planes left Podgorica [Montenegro] airport for Armenia’s ‘Erebuni’ military airport. It was estimated that the arms were intended for the troubled Nagorno-Karabakh region, which saw a wave of border incidents and heightened tensions at the time.
The flights didn’t simply tip-toe past the guards in the middle of the night. Because… well- not Hollywood. There was obviously a ton of paperwork to get these off the ground. Although airports and aviation authorities keep copies of flight documentation for a period of time, in Montenegro (not exceptionally) such documentation is rather well hidden under the umbrella of “National Security,” which is evoked each time secrecy is convenient.
The only employee at Podgorica airport willing to speak about the flights on record, was one of the younger flight controllers. Over the span of a cigarette break he confirmed that the Illyushins were bound for Armenia, and were registered with V-Bird and Air Highnesses. (The two flight companies whose activities spread far beyond Balkans and Caucasus -something I’ll return to at a later stage) He remembered an incident on July 21st, 2010, when one the IL-76s failed to take off because of engine trouble. We agreed to meet again to discuss the flights in more detail, but he never made it to the meeting. Later, when he called to apologize, he appeared to be on a surprise holiday in Spain and could no longer recall anything.
This kind of reporting takes a ton of legwork, with so many blind alleys, so kudos to anyone doing it. And it's going to be a real treat to have the striking photos to go along with the investigation. Follow along.