B.C. mom continues search to recover abducted children from Iraq


March 1, 2016

Source: metronews.ca

Every morning, Alison Azer gets to forget.

Alison-Azer

In the brief moments between waking and getting out of bed, she is mentally planning lunches and coordinating after-school activities for her four children: Sharvahn, 11; Rojevahn, 9; Dersim, 7; and Meitan, 3.

 

But the blissful reprieve crashes when she remembers that the children haven’t been home in months.

“It’s just about three seconds, but it’s so sweet,” she told the Star. “And then the curtain drops and I feel like somebody punched me and I can’t breathe. And then I remember: This is my life.”

Arbil-Iraq-Abducted-Kirkuk

 

In August, the life of the British Columbia mother went from arranging birthday parties and firing up the barbecue, to a desperate search — one she feels sometimes left to shoulder on her own.

Her children were taken to Europe by their father, Azer’s ex-husband, Saren Azer, with whom she has joint custody. The trip was court-approved, but they never returned. She believes their father is keeping them in the remote mountainous border region of northern Iraq.

Monday marked 200 days since she heard from them.

It was Aug. 13, and the children told her over the phone that they were in Cologne, Germany, Azer said. It was a bad line and she could hear street noise all around.

 

“I couldn’t get a sense, as their mom, that they were OK,” she said. Fearing that things weren’t right, she asked her kids to find a quieter spot. Then, according to Azer, she heard her ex-husband rushing them off the phone.

Though they were required to check in with her every 48 hours, 50 hours passed after that call. She texted her ex-husband admonishing him for being late, Azer said. But she never heard back.

 

“Now I look back on that, I’m 200 days into not hearing my kids’ voices, seeing their faces, stroking their cheeks,” she said.

“It has been a nightmare every single minute since I first knew that that call was not coming in on Aug. 15.”

On Aug. 24, the Comox Valley RCMP issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for Saren Azer, also known as Salahaddin Mahmudi-Azer, in relation to abduction charges.

Alison Azer said the missed call last summer confirmed fears that began when the couple separated in December 2012. She had insisted throughout a three-year custody dispute that neither parent be permitted to take the children out of the country.

She said she feared her husband, an Iranian Kurd who came to Canada in 1994, would take them overseas.

missing-kids-Azer-Alison

 

“I was willing to compromise on just about anything, as long as we didn’t have international travel,” she said. It meant turning down the common demand most parents are faced with at some point: a trip to Disneyland.

Denying her children the joys of being a kid was not something Azer relished.

Her ex-husband was strict, she said, and light-hearted pursuits like birthday parties and swimming lessons were not allowed.

 

“They lost out on so much,” Azer said. “He wanted control over their childhood.”

“He made it increasingly clear that he did not want our children raised in the West,” she said. He had threatened before to take the children to Iran to be with his mother.

After the couple split, she tried to share the joys they had been so often denied.

“I made every excuse for a party I could think of,” she said.

 

Ordinarily, October meant planning her family’s annual Halloween party. But this October she set off for Iraq, for the second time since the children were reported missing. She said she stayed until mid-January, travelling between Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, searching for allies and answers.

Working through contacts, building from one person to the next, her worst fears were realized, Azer said: a source told her the children were in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq.

Iraq Kurdistan PKK Camp

Qandil Mountains, Kurdistan/Iraq. PKK Camp.

 

The region is rife with violence, something Azer knew well. According to Azer, her husband spent time in the region in the early ’90s as a supporter of the PKK, a Kurdish independence group.

The source showed her photographs of her daughters in which they looked drawn and tired, with dark circles under their eyes.

“They looked uncomfortable,” she said.

She believes her ex-husband would keep the children fed, but worries about the conditions they may be living in.

“It’s really, really cold. There are two metres of snow, and the structures are made out of cement blocks,” she said.

 

She worries about her youngest tripping and hurting himself on an oil burner used to warm the room. “It’s just — it’s crazy.”

She’s also convinced they aren’t attending school.

Back in Canada, classmates from Courtenay, B.C., skipped recess to watch MPs address the issue of their missing classmates during a recent Question Period.

The town has rallied around Azer. A December letter-writing campaign resulted in 30,000 letters to government officials.

 

Despite the efforts, she fears the case is falling on deaf ears. That’s why she is ramping up efforts to tell her story, even if it’s painful.

“The sad reality is it’s going to need to get a lot more uncomfortable for a lot of people before this can get solved,” she said.

“The only fact that any of us as Canadians need to know is, it’s just not right for four Canadian kids to be held captive in a war zone.”

With spring approaching, she fears time is running out.

“Once that snow starts to melt, that’s when the bombing starts,” she said, her voice is quivering.

 

“To me it’s a pretty straightforward line, and my question is: Why aren’t these kids worth that much to this government?” she said. “Do they have to start coming out one by one in body bags?”

An RCMP spokesperson said the case is active and “continues to be a priority investigation.”

“All efforts are being made to bring the children home. Our investigators continue to work with our partners domestically and internationally, in order to ensure the family is reunited,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Janelle Shoihet said in an email. She declined to confirm whether the children were believed to be in northern Iraq.

 

Torstar News Service could not independently confirm the details of Azer’s account.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs said the government is in regular contact with Azer and is working closely with officials in Canada and abroad, and called the children’s wellbeing a priority.

In the meantime, Azer still reaches for candy to bring home to the kids at a store checkout, her body forgetting what her mind can’t.

“My instincts are the instincts of a mother, and I just don’t have anybody right now to be a mom to.”

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Mom travels to Middle East to search for her allegedly abducted children


October 14, 2015

Source: calgaryherald.com

‘I don’t know if they’re dead or alive:’

A Canadian mother whose four children have been missing for nearly two months has returned from northern Iraq where she unsuccessfully searched for her young kids after confirming they flew into the volatile region on Aug. 15.

Rojevahn Azer and her mom Alison

Former Calgarian Alison Azer’s children — girls Sharvahn, 11, and Rojevahn, 9, and boys Dersim, 7, and three-year-old Meitan — were allegedly abducted in August by her ex-husband, Dr. Saren Azer.

“It’s a nightmare,” a distraught Alison Azer, who resides in B.C. but lived mainly in Calgary from 2004 to 2012, said on Monday.

“I woke up this morning and I just said I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I feel in such despair.”

Policing agency INTERPOL lists the four children as missing on its website and a Canada-wide warrant for the children’s Kurdish Canadian father, a well-known doctor who also goes by Salahaddin Mahmudi-Azer, was issued on Aug. 24.

The Azer children were legally allowed to go on a trip to France and Germany with their father in early August but alarm bells were raised when contact with the group ceased.

Dersim, Rojevahn and Sharvahn Azer

The children were scheduled to return home to B.C.’s Comox Valley on Aug. 22 and begin a new school year — the girls were already talking about what they would wear on their first days of Grade 6 and Grade 4, and the boys were set to enter Grade 2 and preschool.

Instead, a policeman came to Azer’s door at 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 21 and told her RCMP believed her former husband had abducted their children.

A court order requiring that the children be returned immediately to their mother was issued that day, and three days later RCMP issued an arrest warrant for the doctor, in relation to charges of Abduction in Contravention of a Custody Order.

The weeks since then have been a blur for Azer as the self-described soccer mom searches in vain for her children, who she last saw on Aug. 4 and last spoke to during a frantic telephone call when they were in Germany on Aug. 13.

“I feel so alone without my children. They’re my entire life,” she said.

Rather than celebrating her birthday at the end of September surrounded by her four children, Azer said her daughters’ elementary-aged friends stopped by her house, sang to her and brought her flowers, cards and drawings.

Over the last two months, the devastated mother has travelled to Washington, D.C., Ottawa, and the Middle East for meetings with officials and she’s worked to bring the alleged international abduction of her four children to the attention of elected officials in Canada.

“I don’t know if they’re dead or alive. If they’re alive, we’ve got to bring them to safety,” Azer said.

Azer boarded a plane for Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, last month to search for her children after confirming her kids had been taken into northern Iraq, the same region where ongoing conflicts with Islamic State fighters have forced thousands of people to flee.

While meeting with Bayan Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the United States, in mid-September in Washington, D.C., Azer was informed that airport records showed her children landed at the Sulaymaniyah airport in northern Iraq on Aug. 15.

“Once I had confirmation from Washington that the children had, as I terribly feared they had, been taken into northern Iraq, I set out to go there myself,” said Azer, who returned from a week-long trip to the Middle East late last month.

While overseas, Azer met with government officials in Iraqi Kurdistan, who assured her they would do everything they could to locate her missing children but offered her few details.

“I’ve heard nothing directly of the status of their investigation except that there are complicating issues on the ground, which is as vague as it is frustrating and as frustrating as it is terrifying,” she said.

“These are four young children who speak only English, who are so unfamiliar with wherever they’ve been taken in that part of the world.”

Alison Azer

Closer to home, Canadian officials have said investigators are working hard to locate the children.

In an e-mail, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Darren Lagan said Tuesday the investigation into the missing Azer kids is ongoing and because it’s an active investigation, additional details can’t be provided.

“We are actively working on this case, both locally in the Comox Valley, and through our international liaison work at our National Headquarters in Ottawa,” Lagan stated.

In an e-mailed statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada said the Government of Canada is “aware of the abduction of the four Canadian children” and Canadian consular officials are working closely with authorities in Canada and abroad.

“Government of Canada senior officials are in regular contact with the children’s mother and remain deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of the children,” the statement said.

As she works around the clock to find her missing children and raise awareness about their alleged abduction, Azer said she doesn’t know what more she can do.

“I don’t know what it will take. I don’t know if it takes me going back (to northern Iraq)…to walk the streets of Sulaymaniyah with their pictures begging people to let their mom know where her children are,” an emotional Azer said.

“I’m desperate. I will do anything to find my children.”

Azer and her former husband separated in December 2012 and Azer said the couple reached a parenting arrangement in April 2014 that saw the children spend eight days with their mom and six with their father in a two-week period.

The missing children’s father has spoken publicly about volunteering medical care to refugees in the Middle East and he appeared in March in a promotional video with Stephen Harper, speaking about the importance of fighting ISIL.

“The atrocities that are unfolding in that part of the world are beyond anybody’s imagination. The Kurdish community of Canada whole heartedly supports the presence of the Canadian Forces in Iraq,” Saren Azer said in the video.

Azer said her former husband has family in the Middle East and she believes someone, somewhere, knows where her children are.

“There are people out there who know, and I just beg of them, just let me know what you need, let me know what it would take … I will sell everything I have, just let me know what I need to do,” she said.

“(Who) takes four Canadian children away from safety, health care, education, community, friends, family and brings them into an area of active conflict? These children must be found and they must be returned to Canada.”

Anyone with information about the missing Azer children is urged to visit www.findazerkidsnow.com.

AKlingbeil@calgaryherald.com

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