Turkey Turns to Iran to Help Secure Release of Two Journalists Detained in Syrian Capital

[Media News]

Friday, May 11, 2012

Associated Press

One Turkish journalist detained in Syria is a devout Muslim who was on a Gaza-bound aid ship targeted in an Israeli raid in 2010, and reported being wounded by American bombing on a trip to Afghanistan. His cameraman is a film school student who, ahead of his Syria trip, ducked his father's disapproval by claiming he was headed to Italy.

Adem Ozkose, 34, and Hamit Coskun, 21, are expected to be released after negotiations reflecting the opaque blend of regional rivalry and cooperation between Turkey, a foe of Syria's regime, and Iran, a staunch supporter of Damascus. The Syrian government is struggling to crush an opposition movement that is increasingly retaliating with armed strikes.

Syria curbed outside media access except for a few official tours, and international journalists periodically slipped into the country, several dying in efforts to cover the uprising. Ozkose, a reporter for Milat, a startup Turkish newspaper with an Islamic background that prints 10,000 copies daily, crossed the border with Coskun, a freelancer, and a budget of $2,000.

On March 10, Ozkose, who had previously lived in Syria, called his editors from Idlib, a northern province, at a time when Syrian forces with tanks and artillery were preparing to move against poorly armed rebels there.

"'We're going to follow the demonstration here, and we'll report something soon,'" Turgut Alp Boyraz, foreign editor at Milat, cited Ozkose as saying. That was the last the paper heard from him until the two journalists made brief phone calls from Syrian detention to their families on May 5.

However, Iran was acting as diplomatic go-between between Syria and Turkey, which has shut its embassy in Syria and wants President Bashar Assad to resign for attacking population centers. On Friday, a Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet Daily News, cited an unnamed Iranian diplomat as saying a deal had been struck for the release of the two men.

As in Syria, Turkey and Iran back opposing factions in Iraq in what some analysts call a proxy conflict tinged with sectarian tension. Turkey's role as a NATO member troubles Iran, whose nuclear program alarms the West. Yet the regional heavyweights have close business ties and keep their public diplomacy civil.

Iran sought Turkish help this year in releasing Iranian pilgrims who were detained by the Syrian opposition, and Turkey "made efforts to contact some people on the ground" to secure their freedom, a Turkish official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

After Ozkose and Coskun were seized by pro-government groups in Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu raised the case in a conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi.

According to the Turkish official, Davutoglu essentially said: "'If you have any influence on the Syrians, it's time to show it ... it's better for you to take some steps.'"

A recent video showing envoys from an Islamic aid group, known by its Turkish acronym IHH, with the journalists in Damascus offered the first public images of the pair since they disappeared two months ago.

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