“I blacked out. My knees buckled and I just fell to the ground.”
Alison Azer is talking about last Aug. 21 when an RCMP officer came calling at 5 a.m., at her home in Courtenay, B.C.
The officer confirmed Azer’s considerable growing fears — her four young children had not boarded a plane in Paris to return to her after being in Germany and France with their father, her former husband. She had last spoken with them by phone on Aug. 15 and had an uneasy feeling.
At that time, Azer and ex-husband, Dr. Saren Azer, also known as Salahaddin Mahmudi-Azer, had joint custody of the children. By noon on Aug. 21, her lawyer had been to court where she was awarded full custody and full guardianship of the children, and attained an order that they must be returned home.
“It was a perfect document, except I didn’t have my kids.” They had disappeared, along with their father.
Within short order, the children — Sharvahn, 11; Rojevahn, 9; Dersim, 7; and Meitan, 3 — were listed on Interpol’s website as missing and Saren Azer was listed on the same site as a fugitive. RCMP issued a Canada-wide warrant for his arrest.
Since then, Azer has been focused on raising public awareness across Canada about her fight to bring her children home. She will be in Red Deer on Wednesday, speaking at 7 p.m. at Streams Christian Church at 5350 46 Ave.
The meeting is open to the public.
Azer, 47, has several relatives in Red Deer — nieces and nephews who are cousins to her children. Alison’s sister, Liz van Egteren, taught in Central Alberta for almost 30 years before retiring to the Calgary area.
“I need Canadians to stand with me and to join my voice in saying that these are Canada’s kids,” Azer said.
Recently in the House of Commons, Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns asked the Liberal government about what actions they are taking to ensure the safe return of the children.
Azer also met with the parliamentary secretary to Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion.
Saren Azer is originally an Iranian Kurd who came to Canada in 1994. He had been practising as a doctor in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island before disappearing with the children.
Azer believes her children are now in Northern Iraq, in Kurdistan.
“This is not a family dispute … this is a story about an international fugitive who’s taken four Canadian kids to the epicentre of global conflict. Two weeks ago a bomb dropped five kilometres from my kids’ heads.”
Azer said she spent $300,000 in legal fees over three years trying to do everything she could to stop her ex-husband from travelling internationally with the children. “Because I saw very clearly that my ex-husband was a flight risk.”
“System after system after system that as Canadians we think are there to protect kids, failed those kids.”
Last April, Saren Azer, who is 49, did get court consent to take the children on a spring break to Germany. As soon as they returned, he applied for and was granted permission to take them to France and Germany for a summer vacation.
In October, Azer went to Kurdistan to try and find her children. She said while she was able determine where they are, she did not see them. She returned to Canada in January.
She said that since the Canadian government has considerable investment in that region — militarily, diplomatically, and in humanitarian aid — it should be saying to the Kurdistan government: “This can’t go on. For the kind of support we are giving you, we need those kids back.”
“Every single morning I’ve been able to talk myself into getting up and doing the best fight I can that day to get my kids home. I don’t know how much longer I can continue to do this. It is a nightmare beyond proportions.”