United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

48 Iranian Captives Return from Syria

            On January 10, 48 Iranian captives landed in Tehran after their release by Syrian rebels. The Syrian government freed 2,130 detainees in exchange for the Iranians, according to the Turkish humanitarian organization that coordinated the swap. The al Baraa rebel brigade abducted the 48 Iranian men in August 2012 and threatened to kill them, claiming they were members of the Revolutionary Guards. But Tehran denied the association and referred to the men as religious pilgrims.
           
The Iranian foreign ministry issued a statement thanking it’s “friend and brother Syria and the assistance of Qatar and Turkey in freeing the pilgrims.” A Turkish Islamic aid group, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), and a Qatari aid group helped coordinate the first major prisoner swap since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. The following are statements by Iranian, Turkish and IHH officials on the exchange. 

Iranian Ambassador to Syria Mohammad Reza Shibhani
            "The conditions placed on the deal were difficult, but with much work ... we succeeded in securing this release… I hope such tragedies will not be repeated." Jan. 9, 2013
 
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast
            “The release of the abducted Iranians is the result of long and patient work in cooperation with Syrian officials and the assistance of Turkish officials.” Jan. 9, 2013
 
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
            “There are still people being held in prisons and who are being aggrieved. Let's hope that they may be released as well and let's hope that the process is beneficial for all."
            “The rebels had made some preliminary preparations for the release, but we did not know what the Syrian reaction would be… In the end it seems that they agreed.” Four Turks and “a number of Palestinians” were released by Damascus. Jan. 9, 2013
 
IHH President Bulent Yildirim
            “48 Iranian nationals have been released in Duma region of Damascus on Wednesday. IHH official Izzet Sahin is accompanying the Iranians. In exchange, 2,130 people, including many women and children, are being transferred by buses after being kept at the Syrian Interior Ministry. Two of the four Turkish nationals at the hands of Assad forces have been released on Wednesday. We expect others to be released as well. More than 1,000 refugees have been released in the initial phase. Among the prisoners were children born in 1998, 1999 and 2000 as well as 74 women.” Jan. 10, 2013 to Anadolu Agency
 
IHH Vice President Umet Sonmez
            The Syrian prisoners included “ordinary people or friends or relatives of the rebels… This is the largest prisoner exchange to date. We are pleased that people from all sides who were held and victimized have finally been freed.” Jan. 9, 2013
 
IHH Vice President Huseyin Oruc
            “All 2,130 of [those held by Damascus] have been released. They have left for their homes… This is the first time that so many civilians have been released from both sides. We hope it will encourage a better atmosphere and more releases.”
            “The Qataris are very influential with the Syrian people and the Iranians are very influential with the Syrian regime.” Jan. 9, 2013
 

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