I speak with journalist Kevork Almassian about what is happening in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including why Turkey is a major player in this conflict, and how Syrian mercenaries are leading the attacks against the Armenian people.
North Syrian Islamist faction the Levantine Front is facing mounting losses in Aleppo Province, as their battle with the Syrian military turns sour just as the Kurdish YPG is mounting its own offensive in the area, imperiling them on another front.
The Syrian military’s offensive initially started as an effort to ease the siege on a pair of Shi’ite towns, and having successfully done so they also put pressure on supply lines in the city of Aleppo, which before the war was the nation’s financial and industrial capital.
When the fighting over Aleppo began years ago, both sides predicted the battle would decide the whole civil war. It’s been stalemated so long, however, that most of the city is a wreck, and it’s not clear how much real benefit anyone would have from gaining full control of it anymore.
That fight, however, has pushed the Levantine Front onto its heels, and the YPG’s push deeper into Aleppo, primarily aimed at fighting ISIS over the Turkish border, has them facing another front. The front is also enemies with ISIS, which mans they can’t retreat in that direction either.
The front includes groups from several different Islamist factions, including some being armed by the US and Turkey. The group’s leadership is complaining that they aren’t receiving near as much military support as the Syrian military is from Russia, and that this is a major blow to their effectiveness.
Yet ultimately, this group’s existence was tenuous by design, with little territory and surrounded by much bigger factions, each of which was an overt enemy to some faction within the front, all but ensuring that they’d eventually be fighting everyone. It just comes as a surprise that they’re fighting everyone at once this soon.
A suspected ISIS suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a historic district of Istanbul, Turkey today, killing 10 people, all tourists, and wounding 15 others. The slain were identified as nine Germans and one Peruvian. The wounded haven’t all been identified but are also believed to be chiefly tourists.
Turkish deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus identified the attacker as a 28-year-old from Syria. Though no other officials directly confirmed this, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said the attacker was an ISIS member.
There has been no claim of responsibility yet, however, and Turkey isn’t exactly short on would-be attackers, with an ongoing war against their Kurdish minority and intermittent suicide attacks from a Marxist-Leninist group that also operates around Istanbul.
Still, targeting tourists in general does seem in keeping with ISIS strategy, and is likely to damage Turkey’s tourism industry, as ISIS attacks have in the past in places like the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. The Turkish government announced an array of new security measures in the district, but panic prevails for the time being.
Three different bombing attacks, at least one involving a suicide bomber, were carried out today against restaurants in the Hasakeh Province city of Qamishli, primarily under the control of the Kurdish YPG. ISIS is believed to be responsible for the attacks.
Preliminary reports are that at least 16 people were killed and 30 others wounded. A statement from a pro-ISIS outlet claimed “dozens” were killed but offered no specifics.
Qamishli, like some other parts of the Hasakeh Province, is co-defended by Kurdish forces and the Syrian government against ISIS, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the attacks targeted a government-held district, and primarily a Christian one.
Qamishli is close to the Turkish border in Hasakeh, and one of the few jointly-held sites still under government control that is along the border. ISIS has been keen to expand its border holdings with neighboring Turkey, and Turkey is seemingly eager to see less Kurdish presence there.
The Russian Defense Ministry accused the U.S. of fighting ISIS “in word only, instead of taking real action” after the Pentagon refused to give Russia information on its ISIS targets in Syria unless Russia changes its policy towards Bashar al-Assad.
A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the United States of protecting the Islamic State on Monday, after the Pentagon refused to share information about ISIS targets in Syria.
Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza told Sputnik News on Friday that the U.S. would not “cooperate with Russia on Syria until they change their strategy of supporting Assad and instead focus” on ISIS.
In response, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told TASS that the Pentagon’s statement confirms that the U.S. is fighting ISIS “in word only, instead of taking real action.”
[pull_quote_center]The hackneyed thesis has once again confirmed that the Pentagon will fight against IS in word only, instead of taking real action. The statement by the US Defense Department spokesperson Michelle Baldanza about the refusal from any cooperation in the fight against Islamic State is a broken record, and it’s high time to change it.[/pull_quote_center]
Konashenkov also said that last week General Sergey Rudskoy, the chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff, presented data on changes in the routes of illegal oil transportation by ISIS militants. He claimed that the new routes are in the northwestern regions of Iraq, which “are in the focus of constant attention of the United States.”
Rudskoy said on Friday that based on aerial imagery in the vicinity of Zakho, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan, Russian intelligence has spotted at least “11,775 tankers and trucks on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border.”
During the G20 Leaders Summit in Antalya, Turkey, in November, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that ISIS is being financed by 40 different countries. “We have established that financing is coming from 40 countries, including G20 countries,” he said.
While Putin did not list the specific countries he believes are financing ISIS, the “Group of Twenty” includes countries such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
In March, investigative journalist Ben Swann reported on the origin of ISIS, and he noted that the group grew drastically after it seized Humvees, tanks and weaponry left behind by the U.S. and that even when the U.S. government “became aware that ISIS fighters were capturing U.S. equipment, it did nothing.”
The war against the Kurdish PKK has brought a growing amount of Turkish military force against towns in the southeast, with some of the towns under full curfew, cut off from electricity, and with locals reporting less and less food and water available within.
Turkish President Erdogan has vowed to “cleanse” Turkey of PKK rebels in the growing crackdown, and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed today that Turkey would not get “tired” of waging war against the towns.
The war is dividing the country in an ever-growing way, however, with even the opposition HDP calling for open “resistance” to the Erdogan government. The government may remain eager to escalate the crackdown, but they are fueling growing opposition with the way they are carrying it out.
Roughly spanning the period since the US launched its war against ISIS, the number of foreign Islamist fighters who’ve flocked to Iraq and Syria has far more than doubled from June 2014, providing a huge influx of new fighters for ISIS and other groups.
In June 2014, the estimate was about 12,000 foreign fighters, a huge figure in its own right. The new report now believes the figure is from 27,000 to 31,000, meaning the “more than doubled” assessment of the report is putting it mildly.
The report estimates 6,000 fighters from Tunisia, 2,500 Saudis, 2,400 Russians, 2,100 from Turkey, and 2,000 from Jordan. The European Union member nations in general come to about 5,000, with France the largest at 1,800.
While across the Eastern Hemisphere the recruitment for foreign fighters is soaring, particularly in Europe and Northern Africa, the report says the North American figures are mostly flat, with 150 from the US and 130 from Canada.
The big concern is that an estimated 20% or 30% of these fighters are returning to their western countries of origin, meaning these countries will all be coping with significant influxes of now-seasoned fighters with international contacts.
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark said last week that ISIS’ Sunni insurgency against regional Shiite-dominated governments in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Syria serves the regional political interests of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Gen. Clark said on CNN’s The Lead, “When a NATO nation shoots down a Russian aircraft, it’s still an act by Turkey, not by NATO. These aircraft are not under NATO control. They’re under Turkish operational control. They’re flying as a result of Turkish air missions, and NATO is not running an air defense umbrella that’s integrated, to the best of my knowledge.”
“Let’s be very clear. ISIS is not just a terrorist organization, it is a Sunni terrorist organization. That means it blocks and targets Shia and that means it’s serving the interests of Turkey and Saudi Arabia even as it poses a threat to them, because neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia want an Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon bridge that isolates Turkey and cuts Saudi Arabia off,” said Clark.
He added, “All along there’s always been the idea that Turkey was supporting ISIS in some way. We know they’ve funneled people going through Turkey to ISIS. Someone’s buying that oil that ISIS is selling. It’s going through somewhere. It looks to me like it’s probably going through Turkey, but the Turks haven’t acknowledged that.”
Clark then gave his opinion that there is “no good guy in this [conflict].” He added, “The tactics used by the Assad regime [against ISIS] have been terror tactics. They’re dropping barrel bombs on innocent civilians… This is a power struggle for the Middle East using terror tactics and terrorists.”
Earlier this year, Ben Swann released a Truth in Media video exposing how U.S. foreign policy contributed to the rise of ISIS. Watch it in the below-embedded video player.
Two Turkish journalists, being held for publishing controversial reports, are calling on the European Union not to compromise on human rights as it works toward making an agreement with Turkey regarding the flow of refugees.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan’s rule has become authoritarian, but Western governments appear weary of creating conflict while remaining dependent on Turkey for refugee help. Turkey is well known for human rights violations and suppressing freedom of speech. Several journalists have been held and possibly murdered for reporting on the crimes of the Turkish government.
Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and senior editor Erdem Gul are both being held in Silivri prison near Istanbul for publishing photos which purportedly show Turkish intelligence sending weapons into Syria. Last week, both men wrote to EU leaders asking them to consider Turkey’s human rights record before making a deal with the nation.
[pull_quote_center]We would also like to hope that your desire to end the crisis will not stand in the way of your sensitivity towards human rights, freedom of press and expression as fundamental values of the Western world.[/pull_quote_center]
U.S. State Dept. spokesperson Mark Toner released a statement on Thursday concerning the arrests of Dünbar and Gül:
“We are troubled by the pre-trial arrest yesterday of senior editors of the respected Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet.
“The investigation, criminal charges, and arrest raise serious concerns about the Turkish government’s commitment to the fundamental principle of media freedom. These events are only the latest in a series of judicial and law enforcement actions taken under questionable circumstances against Turkish media outlets critical of the government.
“We call on Turkish authorities to ensure that all individuals and organizations — including but not limited to the media — are free to voice a full range of opinions and criticism, in accordance with Turkey’s constitutional guarantees of media freedom and freedom of expression.”
Although the State Department, the U.S. embassy in Turkey and the Council of Europe have criticized the arrests, the European Union and Turkey signed an agreement on Sunday to help with the overwhelming flow of people across Europe.
Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said the deal “would not lead to a situation where we forget about the main differences and divergences we have with Turkey – human rights and freedom of the press.”
Is Turkey arming ISIS?
But what about the claims made by the reporters at Cumhuriyet? Is there any truth to the claims that the Turkish intelligence agency is shipping weapons into Syria?
RT visited the newspaper’s office in Istanbul, and spoke with reporters to find out more about the claims. The reporters told RT about a convoy carrying weapons. RT writes:
“Those who sent the convoy from Turkey knew that the weapons were ‘heading to end [up] in ISIS hands,’ one of the Cumhuriyet bosses told RT’s Ilya Petrenko. ‘There was that flag that belongs to ISIS… [it could be seen] very clearly [from] Turkish border line,’ the journalist said.
Turkish officials made contradictory statements after the paper blew the whistle, first saying that the arms ‘were going to the Free Syrian Army,’ then denying the delivery altogether, and then saying the ‘aid was destined for the Turkmen.'”
Journalist Serena Shim had previously reported similar claims about Turkish intelligence. Shim, a journalist with Iranian Press TV, was threatened by Turkish officials after reporting that ISIS supporters were being smuggled across the Syrian-Turkish border. Shim was killed in a car accident in 2014, just days after she said she was accused of being a spy.
“I believe my daughter gave her life for the truth,” Judy Poe, Shim’s mother, told Fox News. “I absolutely suspect foul play.”
The idea that Turkey is supporting the Islamic State through arms is not necessarily a new claim. In May, Reuters reported:
“Turkey’s state intelligence agency helped deliver arms to parts of Syria under Islamist rebel control during late 2013 and early 2014, according to a prosecutor and court testimony from gendarmerie officers seen by Reuters.
The witness testimony contradicts Turkey’s denials that it sent arms to Syrian rebels and, by extension, contributed to the rise of Islamic State, now a major concern for the NATO member.”
These reports are largely absent from mainstream journalism and television pundits. When discussing ISIS and the danger they pose the corporate media is quick to point to human rights violations and why we must stop the terror group. What they are less likely to tell you is that allies of the United States, including Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, are responsible for atrocious acts of violence and supporting the rebels which led to the current Islamic State.
With the recent escalation between Turkey and Russia, it seems as if the proxy-war between the NATO nations and Russia/Syria/Iran is coming to head. As Ben Swann explains below, it seems the U.S. government and its allies were aware that ISIS would rise to power, and used the event as a pretext for bombing Syria and attempting to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he has confirmed that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is trafficking oil through Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that he will resign if Putin’s claims are proven to be true.
After a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey near the border between Turkey and Syria last week, Putin suggested it was done to secure illegal oil deliveries from Syria to Turkey.
During an annual climate change conference in Paris on Monday, Putin was quoted on the sidelines saying that Moscow has “received additional information” which confirms that oil from the deposit controlled by ISIS enters Turkey on an industrial scale.
[pull_quote_center]At the moment we have received additional information confirming that that oil from the deposits controlled by Islamic State militants enters Turkish territory on industrial scale. We have every reason to believe that the decision to down our plane was guided by a desire to ensure security of this oil’s delivery routes to ports where they are shipped in tankers.[/pull_quote_center]
While the two leaders did not meet face to face, Erdogan did respond to Putin’s claims. He insisted Turkey receives oil and gas imports “through the legal path” and that they are “not dishonest so as to do this kind of exchange with terrorist groups.”
“Let’s remain patient and let’s not act emotionally,” said Erdogan, who went as far as to say that he would resign from office if Putin’s claims were proven true.
[pull_quote_center]I will say something very strong here. If such a thing is proven, the nobility of our nation would require that I would not stay in office.[/pull_quote_center]
The shooting down of Russia’s war plane near the Turkish-Syrian border has resulted in conflicting accounts from Turkey and Russia. While Turkey claimed two Russian jets flew over a mile into Turkish airspace for 17 seconds after being warned 10 times to change their direction, Russia claimed that the jets never left Syrian airspace.
Fuming at the Turkish attack on and destruction of their Su-24 bomber in Syrian airspace, Russia has announced the deployment of significant new air defense equipment to the Syria-Turkey border, including the Moskva guided-missile cruiser, which will park off the coast of Latakia to destroy any “target that may pose danger.”
The Moskva is equipped with anti-aircraft missiles and an air defense system similar to the S-300 systems that are already deployed in some parts of Syria. The Russian Defense Ministry says they are going to cut military contact with Turkey as well in protest over the attack.
The biggest move, however, is likely to be Russia’s announcement that future bombing runs in northern Syria are going to include escorts of fighter jets, a move that is likely to dissuade hasty attacks on the bombers in future incidents along the border.
Turkey maintains that the Russian plane crossed the border, but US officials say they can’t confirm that this was the case, and that the plane was definitely inside Syrian airspace when Turkey attacked it.
After a Russian jet was shot down near the border between Turkey and Syria on Tuesday, one United States official said the U.S. believes the jet was shot down inside Syrian airspace.
An anonymous U.S. official told Reuters that the U.S. “believes that the Russian jet shot down by Turkey on Tuesday was hit inside Syrian airspace after a brief incursion into Turkish airspace.”
The official claimed that the conclusion was reached “based on detection of the heat signature of the jet.”
The incident has led to conflicting accounts from Turkey and Russia. While Turkey claimed two Russian jets flew more than a mile into Turkish airspace for 17 seconds after being warned 10 times in five minutes to change their direction, Russia claimed that the jets never left Syrian airspace.
In response, Russian President Putin called the shooting a “stab in the back,” and alleged that Turkey directly supports terrorist groups like ISIS through illegal oil sales.
“Our military men are fighting terrorism, sacrificing their own lives, but today’s loss is a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorism,” Putin said.
The navigator of the Russian SU-24 that was shot down, Konstantin Murakhtin, was rescued, and told Russia’s Rossiya 1 channel that the jets received no warning.
Murakhtin claimed he did not enter Turkey’s airspace, and received no visual or radio warning before his plane was fired upon.
“It’s impossible that we violated their airspace even for a second,” Murakhtin said. “We were flying at an altitude of 6,000 meters in completely clear weather, and I had total control of our flight path throughout.”
During a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande, President Obama urged communication between Russia and Turkey, and said, “Turkey, like every country, has a right to defend its territory and its airspace.”
Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), called for an emergency council meeting in Brussels on Tuesday. Members present said that while “none of the 28 NATO envoys defended Russia’s actions,” many of them “expressed concern that Turkey did not escort the Russian warplane out of its airspace.”
ISTANBUL, November 24, 2015– On Tuesday, Turkey brought down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkey border after the Russian jet reportedly entered Turkey’s airspace after 10 warnings not to do so. According to the White House, the intrusion lasted only a matter of seconds.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the act a “stab in the back that will have serious consequences for Russia’s relationship with Turkey.”
Meanwhile, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, Sedar Kilic, shot back at Putin in a tweet.
“Understand this: Turkey is a country whose warnings should be taken seriously and listened to. Don’t test Turkey’s patience. Try to win its friendship,” wrote Kilic.
President Obama has called upon Turkey and Russia to deescalate the situation and said that Russia should refocus its mission.
“The problem has been Russia’s focus on propping up Assad rather than concentrating on ISIL,” said Obama.
A deputy commander of rebel Turkmen forces in Syria that claimed responsibility for shooting down the Russian jet says the pilots ejected before he shot down the warplane.
Initial reports were that the two pilots of the jet were dead. However, a Turkish government official told Reuters otherwise.
“Our units, who received the information that the two pilots were alive, are working to get them from opposition rebels safely,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Russia is contradicting Turkey’s claim that both Russian pilots are alive. The RIA news agency reports that Russian military staff say one of the pilots is dead.
NATO’s North Atlantic Council is currently holding an emergency meeting in Brussels. Thus far, some NATO officials are quoted as saying that Turkey should have used more restraint.
Adding to the confusion about who exactly this week’s US airdrops of weapons into Syria’s Hasakeh Province actually targeted, the Pentagon today issued a statement insisting the “Arab groups” they targeted successfully got all of the aid, and hadn’t shared it with anyone.
The statement was directed at media reports that the Kurdish YPG, the largest faction in Hasakeh and a US ally, had recovered some of the gear, and the Pentagon seems to be trying to reassure Turkey, who is outraged at the idea of Kurds armed by the US, that this didn’t happen.
Totally unanswered, however, is who exactly the US arms went to, as these “Arab groups” that the Pentagon keeps referencing are never named, and so far don’t seem to be actively fighting in the Hasakeh Province in any meaningful way.
The “Arab Groups” were also referred to in some statements as the Syrian Arab Coalition, and was claimed to have included tribal factions as well as an unnamed Assyrian Christian militia. The YPG, however, claimed to have joined this faction; claimed to have renamed it the Democratic Forces; and claimed to have been promised arms by the US.
Turkey has been warning both the US and Russia that they won’t tolerate any cooperation of any kind with Kurdish factions, and Russia has since assured them they aren’t providing any direct armament to the Kurds, though they are said to be backing them in anti-ISIS operations.
With the UN General Assembly setting up a growing call for international negotiations on ending the Syrian Civil War, the Obama Administration is taking a risky position, reportedly trying to keep all Western European nations from taking part in the negotiations.
The US is envisioning a five-nation effort, led by them, and including Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. The assumption from this is likely that Turkey and Saudi Arabia will back the US position, giving them a 3-2 majority at the negotiating table.
Russia is likely to make a lot of diplomatic points with their position, which urges the inclusion of all P5+1 members as well as several other Middle Eastern states, including Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.
US officials are defending their position as believing that the talks will be easier if they restrict it to those “directly involved” in Syria, but this must inevitably raise the question of whether the US is really “involved” in any way that France, for instance, is not.
The real risk of including France, Germany, and Britain is the appeal to reasonableness they are liable to bring to the table, as the US can count on the Saudis and Turkish government to both unconditionally spurn any unity deal that keeps Assad in power in any form, while the European nations are more likely to push for some sort of compromise deal that starts a transition.
These attacks were carried out over the course of the last two days, and sparked another round of Turkish military retaliation, mostly in the form of airstrikes, with the military issuing a statement saying that 34 PKK fighters were killed int the attacks.
The incidents took place in Sirnak and Diyarbakir Provinces, along the Turkish border with Iraq. Turkey’s southeast is predominantly Kurdish, and the PKK is active both there and in northern Iraq, which has also been the target of multiple airstrikes.
Kurdish MP Salma Armak reported that PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, still in Turkish prison, has reiterated his support for a return to the two-year ceasefire that was in place before Turkey launched airstrikes against the group in late July. Turkey has suggested that they have no intention to return to the ceasefire without a unilateral disarmament of the entire PKK and the group relocating wholly to Iraq.
When it was announced that the US and Turkey were going to unite against ISIS, there was an immediate announcement of talks underway to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria, along the Turkish border. It would be 60 miles long. That was all that was known.
Weeks later, that’s still all that is known, with Syrians unclear if they’ll be part of the safe zone, who will be in charge of the region, how it will be “safe,’ or indeed, how the US and Turkey even intend to make such a zone happen since both are ruling out any use of ground troops.
While the timing initial fueled assumptions that the zone would include a lot of ISIS territory, more recent suggestions are that this is not actually what will happen, and that the territory will be further west, carved more out of Kurdish territory than ISIS territory, as Turkey shifts its war focus against the Kurds.
Locals have heard all these plans to end the war before, and the talk of an imminent “safe zone” is just the latest empty promise, and the US and Turkey comments are just another “PR effort” for an unworkable scheme, that will eventually fall by the wayside in favor of more bombings.
NATO leaders held a 90-minute meeting today in response to Turkey’s request for a hearing on the “threats to their territorial integrity,” relating to recent fighting against both ISIS and Kurdish forces. Despite asking for a hearing, Turkey did not request military aid.
NATO did follow through by declaring “solidarity” with Turkey against ISIS, though several countries were said to be unwilling to endorse the attacks against the Kurds, saying they don’t want Turkey to abandon the PKK peace process.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the NATO members that Turkey is engaging in “self defense” against ISIS and the Kurds, but said NATO should prepare for the possibility of having to get involved and back Turkey in the fights, per the alliance agreement.
The US has been eagerly backing Turkey in its attacks on ISIS, since it secures them some convenient air bases, but the US has also been the most eager in backing the Kurds, meaning they’re going to be struggling to play both sides in that particular battle.
Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet has released a series of still images and video showing Turkish state intelligence agents participating in smuggling of arms across the border to Syrian Islamist rebels.
The video shows security officials unloading a box of antibiotics, revealing large amounts of mortar shells underneath. This is reportedly the same January 2014 incident reported recently as part of testimony in legal proceedings.
Exactly where the arms went once they crossed the border is unclear, but they were believed to have been distributed broadly among Islamist factions, particularly ISIS which controls a large portion of the Turkish border.
Turkey has repeatedly denied the charges, and followed up today’s publication by announcing the newspaper that broke the story is facing charges of “terrorism” for making the report. Prosecutors who were pushing a case related to the weapons smuggling have similarly been detained, and Turkey seems determined to cover this up at all costs.
WASHINGTON—February 15, 2015 – When Naghmeh Abedini married her husband Saeed in Iran, she never dreamed she would raise their future children as a single mother in Boise, Idaho, while her husband languished for years in an Iranian prison.
A native of Iran, Naghmeh and her family left when she was nine years old and spent a year in California before relocating to Boise. Her father was educated in the United States and obtained his master’s degree at Oregon State University prior to taking his family out of Iran. “He had a green card,” says Naghmeh, “We were not refugees.”
The real reason they left Iran, however, was due to the radicalization of their Muslim faith in the school system. “My brother was being brainwashed in elementary school,” says Naghmeh, “They started war recruiting for Jihad when he was eight years old.” Students were told that if they died for the cause they would “get to meet God.” They were forced to run through active mine fields as a school exercise. The land mines would occasionally detonate. “The government arrested any parents who complained,” says Naghmeh, “So our parents quietly packed up and left.”
Her parents were unhappy with the school system in California, also, and hoped a move to a smaller city would help preserve their culture and Muslim faith. Within ten years in Boise, however, both of Naghmeh’s parents, along with herself, her brother, and a sister had converted to Christianity.
In 2001, Naghmeh spent a year in Iran. Just before she returned to Boise, her cousin invited her to a government-approved Christian church service. She heard Saeed Abedini speak and was intrigued by his passion, so she introduced herself and asked him if he would watch out for her cousins. Later, she learned that Saeed was a pastor and a leader of the growing house church movement. He was also a former Muslim who once desired to kill Christians, but he converted in 2000. When she returned to Iran in 2003 for another visit, the sparks flew between them. He proposed marriage in June of that year, and they were married in Iran the following June in a government-sanctioned Christian church.
The Abedini’s life together in Iran was cut short when the country experienced a regime change in 2005 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to power. Known for his religious hardline stances, Ahmadinejad was a main figure in the Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran party, usually shortened to Abadgaran and widely regarded as the political front for the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Revolutionary Guards.) The latter group was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2007.
After Ahmadinejad was elected, the church the Abedinis married in was forced to close, as were other Christian churches in Iran, despite current law allowing the peaceful gathering of religious minorities. Overnight, Christians were seemingly not welcome or tolerated in the country, so the couple moved together to Boise. Their daughter Rebekka was born in 2006 and their son Jacob arrived in 2008, the same year Saeed became an ordained minister through the American Evangelistic Association.
In 2009, the entire family decided to visit Iran together and see Saeed’s family, as it had been four years since he had seen his parents who had yet to meet their grandchildren. When the Boise-based Abedini family arrived at the airport to fly home to Idaho, Saeed was arrested by Iranian intelligence police. “Please leave Iran,” Saeed told his wife and children, “It will make it easier on me.”
Saeed was placed on house arrest for a month in his parents’ home while investigators determined whether or not he was still establishing Christian church groups. Before he was released, the police advised him to focus on humanitarian efforts—a move that inspired Saeed to use his grandfather’s land and an existing building to open an orphanage in the Iranian city of Rasht.
Back in Idaho, Saeed began a three-year process riddled with paperwork hurdles and setbacks in an attempt to open the orphanage he envisioned. He visited Iran ten more times in an effort to complete the approval process for the orphanage. Naghmeh, Rebekah, and Jacob joined him in October 2011, as the Abedinis were convinced that the orphanage was close to being opened. “We really wanted our kids to be able to meet the orphans,” Naghmeh recalls. However, by February 2012, the approval was still pending. The Abedinis returned to Boise once more. Four months later, Saeed traveled to Iran to finish the orphanage once and for all. “That was the last time I saw him,” says Naghmeh.
He was due to return to Boise on July 29. However, on July 27, Saeed was arrested on a bus in Turkey after looking at land in Georgia. He was placed under house arrest once again. The Iranian government seized his U.S. Passport and he was questioned for months about his activities, without being charged with a crime.
He thought he would be able to resolve his detainment with one last interrogation, scheduled for September 26 at a location to be determined by a 9:00 a.m. phone call that same day. However, Revolutionary Guards forces raided his parents’ house in Tehran at 6:00 a.m. and took Saeed to an unknown location. Four days later, it was revealed that he was in solitary confinement at the notorious Evin Prison. Saeed was accused of “corrupting a whole generation against Islam,” a reference to his pre-Revolution house church activities.
Saeed was charged with undermining the national security of Iran. At his trial on January 21, 2013, Saeed and his attorney were only given one day to make their defense. He was convicted by Judge Pir-Abassi of Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, and sentenced a week later to eight years in prison. Revolutionary Court trials are not public, there is no jury, and a single judge decides the cases—which are final and not eligible for appeal. Details about court proceedings are revealed at the sole discretion of the court. The government says it will release Saeed if he converts back to Islam, but he refuses.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is representing Naghmeh and her children. “This is a real travesty—a mockery of justice,” said ACLJ’s Executive Director Jordan Sekulow. “From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release. Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights.”
Saeed Abedini has been reportedly beaten and tortured during his incarceration and is now housed in the Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj, his sudden move a possible indication of defiance toward President Hassan Rouhani by the Revolutionary Guard. Saeed is denied any electronic or voice communications with the outside world, but his parents visit him almost weekly, bring him letters from home, and send his letters out—including one to President Obama just before this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.
Naghmeh is hopeful due to extensive support from Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, as well as remarks made by President Obama, that her husband’s release will be secured during upcoming negotiations with Iran. “We’re in a good place,” she says, “If Iran wants to make a deal, I want to make sure Saeed is not left behind.”