Kidnapped in Iran
Veysel, an old friend of our CouchSurfing host Cihan (pronounced G-haun), came over tonight and told us quite an amazing story…
He and four of his buddies are paragliding fanatics, turned instructors. They're all Turkish, and spend the summer months giving tourists casual thrills with the sport.
The idea came up between the five of them that they'd get out of Turkey for a few months and practice their craft in Nepal. They made some calls and managed to get themselves sorted with a company who was in need of experienced pilots for the upturn in demand.
In late-2005, Veysel and another of the five ended up flying out there, whereas the other three sought to travel overland (a trip that would probably take a good 45 days to complete).
About a month into the road trip the two (now working in Nepal) lost contact with the traveling trio. They couldn't reach them by text message, voice, or e-mail.
Days turned into a week—then weeks. They were missing.
Well, what had actually happened was that Veysel's friends had been kidnapped driving through eastern Iran (where Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan meet).
Armed gunmen stopped the car, which they apparently mistook to be occupied by 'wealthy' Brits (because of the gear-laden 4×4 they were driving).
The trio told them that they weren't British, but Turks—Muslim Turks.
The gunmen asked them to prove it by going through a prayer. Luckily, one of the three knew how do to this from memory, and with a look at their passports, the gunmen pretty much slapped their foreheads—oops.
They apologized, but said they were going to take the trio hostage anyway.
They left the car and the gear and walked the three into Afghanistan (which wasn't that far, just a handful of miles).
Meanwhile, Veysel's friend working with him in Nepal went back to Turkey because his grandfather had died, leaving Veysel alone. Eventually, he decided to pack things up and just travel around India (with like 100+ pounds of personal and paragliding equipment in tow).
The media started picking up word of the kidnapping, and their demands:
Three Turkish paraglide pilots are being held hostage on the Silk Road by a gang under the guise of the Taliban. Negotiations are currently underway for the release of the three men, Serdar Durna (31), Yurdaer Etike (36) and Avni Ozan (49), abducted by an active gang, whilst they were paragliding in the Zenedan area in Iran. The three Turkish tourists, who began their trip on the Silk Road through Pakistan, India and Nepal, on December 7, 2005 in Turkey, stopped off to paraglide in Zahedan before leaving Iran to enter Pakistani territory.
As Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey said, Iranian authorities mobilized all their facilities in order to rescue our relatives but after 20 days from the day incident has occurred there has not been any positive progress.
Demands from the group ranged between the release of prisoners, and a whopping one-million euros ($1.2m, £565,000) per captive.
But Iran wasn't negotiating. In fact, Veysel says that Iran made a final counter-offer that ultimately saw the release of all three: We're not going to give you a single euro. Let them go or we'll execute each and every one of prisoners affiliated with those you want released.
…Three Turkish paragliders who were held for more than three weeks by kidnappers in southeastern Iran returned home to Istanbul. "We had a lucky escape. We were constantly issued with death threats," one them, Yurdaer Etike, told reporters at the airport.
The Real Story
Ah, but Yurdaer's quote (above) was slightly exaggerated. He wasn't misquoted, just had a slightly skewed (subjective) perception of things.
You see, the two older guys of the three didn't have a very good time in captivity. But the third, Serdar, a close friend to Veysel (our storyteller), recounted a more entertaining version that didn't make the papers:
The truth was that the kidnappers treated these guys pretty well (as far as kidnapping goes). They weren't living in a cave someplace, but in a home on the outskirts of a town.
In true Middle Eastern hospitality, the trio were always given food first, and allowed to eat their fill before their kidnappers partook in the meal.
They'd invite them to go out on walks together in the area, and once, one even gave his assault rifle to Serdar to hold at his back as he marched him into the home (arms raised, as if he'd gotten the best of him). …They all burst out laughing!
After it became apparent they weren't going to get any cash or friends released from prison the kidnappers finally shrugged and walked them back to their car. Amazingly, both the vehicle and all their gear were still there, untouched.
And do you want to know the best part about all this?
Serdar still keeps in contact with the kidnappers—text messages and the occasional phone call…
From the News: Turkish tourists set free in Iran [BBC]