BEIRUT: Irfan Akpinar says he wants to hear the voice of his brother, one of two Turkish Airlines pilots being held hostage in Lebanon, as he appeals to the kidnappers and the families of the abducted Lebanese in Syria to free the two men. “If Lebanon is a democracy and if there is such a thing as human rights in Lebanon, then I ask you as a journalist ... for your mediation, so that I can hear my brother’s voice,” Akpinar said in Turkish with the aid of a translator in a phone interview with The Daily Star.
Akpinar’s brother, Murat and co-pilot Murat Agca, were abducted by a group of gunmen in Beirut shortly after leaving Rafik Hariri International Airport in a hotel shuttle.
Days later, three men, from the Saleh and Zoughaib families, were taken into custody for suspected involvement in the abduction. The men are related to the pilgrims being held hostage in Syria by a rebel group.
Last week, a Lebanese judge charged 13 people for the kidnapping. Most of them are also related to the Lebanese hostages in Syria.
An unknown group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the two Turkish nationals, demanding in exchange the release of the nine Lebanese who were kidnapped in May of last year in Aleppo’s Azaz area.
The Lebanese were on a pilgrimage to the Imam al-Reda shrine in Iran.
Families of the Lebanese claim that Turkey, a supporter of the Syrian opposition, has enough leverage to secure the release of their loved ones.
“I respect and share the families’ frustration and concern ... but end this crisis and don’t repeat its mistakes,” Akpinar said. “Mistakes should not be corrected by making more mistakes.”
“I don’t hate them but what they did was wrong and I hope their families are quickly released,” he added.
Murat Akpinar is a father of three children, all under the age of 17, who live in constant fear “of losing their father for the first time in their lives.”
Akpinar sounded desperate to hear from his brother and he sought to assure the kidnapped pilots that their own families “are strong and in solidarity with each other.”
“If they [the kidnappers] have a small share of morality or conscience, they should allow the families to talk to the pilots,” he said.
“Are they conscious [of their actions]? Are they happy with what they have done?” Akpinar asked, adding that the kidnappers achieved their objective of drawing attention to the case of the kidnapped pilgrims.
The spokesperson for the relatives of kidnapped pilgrims reiterated that the families were not involved in the kidnapping of the Turks, voicing willingness to appeal to their abductors to demonstrate their innocence.
“I am willing to appeal to the kidnappers given that they abducted the Turkish pilots to serve our case and there’s a possibility that they might respond to us,” Daniel Shoaib told The Daily Star.
“But as for releasing an audio or video of the kidnapped [pilots], I would ask that the kidnappers not do so unless a video of our relatives, with a valid date, is released, or two or three of them are released,” he said.
Shoaib, who accused the Turkish government of being behind the abduction, voiced sympathy with the relatives of the pilots, asking them to pressure their government to resolve both cases.
“When I saw their pictures and a woman crying over [the pilot’s] abduction, I felt pain and I was hurt because I know what it means to have a loved one’s freedom be taken away,” he said.
Several Lebanese officials said Turkey should do more to release the Lebanese in Syria.
Akpinar and other relatives of the kidnapped pilots are being kept apprised of the case by the Turkish Embassy in Beirut.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel revealed Tuesday that progress was being made in the case and that security agencies were close to freeing the pilots.
“The Turkish pilots have been located, we were about to rescue them, but the kidnappers must have known about it because they changed locations,” Charbel told Anadolu News Agency.
The minister added that the pilots were in good condition.
Reports emerged that the two were being held in separate locations in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley.
A judicial source told The Daily Star Tuesday that Mount Lebanon Judge Ziyad Mkanna is expected to hold a hearing Wednesday to question suspects and call more in for questioning over the case.
Akpinar appealed to the Lebanese government to act faster and help secure the release of the pilots.
“The Lebanese are not in Turkey but in Syria and the pilots are not involved in this issue nor are the Turkish people,” he added.
The kidnapping of the two Turkish nationals is the second such incident in less than a year following a spree of kidnappings in August of 2012 when two Turkish nationals were abducted.
Abdel-Basset Orsolan and Aydin Tufan Tekin were kidnapped for different reasons, among them the release of the Lebanese in Syria.
The release of the Turks was followed by that of two Lebanese hostages, but is not believed to be directly linked.