Florida Keys

Keys family reunited after scare in Turkmenistan

The Petro family (from left) of Mercedes, Aziza, Michael III and Lola celebrates Michael III and Aziza's return to the U.S. with a cake.
The Petro family (from left) of Mercedes, Aziza, Michael III and Lola celebrates Michael III and Aziza's return to the U.S. with a cake. Via KeysInfoNet

Four-year-old Michael III was skeptical. He spent the better part of last week crying, in disbelief, over his possible return to the U.S. to see his father, Key West Realtor Mike Petro, and the rest of his family.

"That's what he kept saying, 'You're tricking me," Petro said.

For the first time in months, Petro has his full family at the dinner table.

He reflected on the return of his wife, Aziza, and son, Michael III, this week. They landed at Miami International Airport Sunday afternoon after spending more than a summer detained in Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country that borders Iran and Afghanistan.

"I think the Radio Free Europe interview got to the Turkmen officials," Petro said of a recent radio interview he did with the outlet. "I don't know what the real deal is."

Aziza, Michael III and Petro's daughter Mercedes, 11, left for Turkmenistan on June 8. The purpose of the visit was for Aziza and the children to visit her brother, who had a baby in December, and visit her mother's grave.

But Petro's family became involved in what he described as a geopolitical mess. The family was under the impression that his wife and children would be able to leave the country after she renounced her Turkmenistan citizenship, flying back on her U.S. passport. But renouncing that citizenship requires the president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, to sign the paperwork.

Petro sought help from the Turkmenistan embassy in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami and the Keys, and the State Department, to no avail.

He reunited with Mercedes, meeting her at Heathrow Airport in London, on Sept. 12. Turkmenistan's migration services issued her an exit visa, which allowed her to leave the country.

Then last Thursday, Aziza received a call from Turkmenistan's migration services about another exit visa. Petro said she had to sign an affidavit stating she would leave the country by Sept. 27.

"They went out of their way to make sure she received the exit visa," Petro said.

Aziza and Michael III boarded a plane from Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat, to Moscow. From Moscow they flew to Frankfurt, then Miami after a 14-hour layover.

Petro, meanwhile, was already in Kendall for the weekend, as Mercedes had several soccer matches. She's a sixth-grader at Sugarloaf School.

"Until they physically were there, it was hard to really seem real," Petro said of the reunion. "It's been hard to work. I've done a good job putting on a face and a front and holding the emotions down."

While Petro is ready to move forward, Aziza is angry. "She wants retribution somewhere along the line," he said.

Throughout the ordeal, Aziza lost her job working for a local attorney.

The family is planning to enroll Michael III into kindergarten at Sugarloaf. Seeing his father again turned out not to be a trick.

"He was ecstatic, he continued to joke about it, 'I thought you were tricking me again,' " Petro said.