It was a year ago Thursday that Comox Valley mother Alison Azer said goodbye to her four children as they left on a court-sanctioned European vacation with their father. She hasn’t seen them since.
“The amount of time that’s passed isn’t just longer, it’s deeper,” Alison Azer said Thursday. “It’s dark, really dark.”
On Thursday, one of many grim anniversaries this month, another campaign rolled out to help Azer continue to investigate her husband’s tracks in the Middle East and travel to Ottawa to pressure the Canadian government to bring her children home.
She has raised more than $140,000, which she said she has used in an “accountable, ethical and responsible” way to pay for legal fees, travel costs and other expenses related to her effort to be safely reunited with her children back in Canada. She has travelled to the Middle East and Ottawa several times.
“It’s very humbling to have to be on the other end and begging people to show mercy and help me in the fight of my life,” said Azer, a former consultant for the United Way on Vancouver Island and the Canadian Women’s Foundation in Calgary.
“If don’t have the resources to see me through this, I won’t get through this.”
Azer’s misgivings about her ex-husband’s Aug. 4, 2015, trip to France and Germany became reality when the Canadian-born children failed to return to Canada by Aug. 22 as planned.
Saren Azer, a Comox Valley doctor, had lived in Canada since 1994. The couple divorced in 2014 and had shared custody of the children — Sharvahn, who turned 12 on Wednesday, Rojevahn, 10, Dersim, 7, and Meitan, 4.
Kurdish officials would later give Alison Azer three photos showing her ex-husband and their four children arriving at Sulaymaniyah International Airport in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq on Aug. 15, 2015.
A Canada-wide warrant was issued on Aug. 24 for Saren Azer’s arrest for abduction in contravention of a custody order, and Interpol posted a notice.
Alison Azer was able to confirm her ex-husband fled Iraq in February and crossed the border into Iran. She said she alerted Iranian authorities. The children are now believed to be living in the Iranian city of Urmia.
Alison Azer met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in May and was assured the children’s file was on his desk. Since then, she has criticized him for failing to “make the call” to his Iranian counterpart to negotiate the return of the children.
On July 5, Trudeau said the Azer children were “a real preoccupation,” and that the Canadian government, the RCMP and consular services continued to be closely involved in trying to bring them home.
Alison Azer has collected more than 14,000 names on a petition supporting her cause.
Courtenay artist Lucy Schappy has painted a work titled Alison’s Angel in support of a campaign by Kathryn Babcock to bring the children home safely.
The painting features an angel carrying four hearts — one for each of the children — and encourages Canadians to become one of Alison Azer’s “angels” by donating $2 a day until the family is reunited.
Schappy said she is inspired by her friend’s strength, courage and devotion. “But she is not alone; she has her angels — all of us — who love her and her kids, and are wishing that they will be together again soon.”
In June, Comox Valley RCMP said Saren Azer contacted police, assuring them the children were safe. Alison Azer believes the children are in danger because of their father’s connections with an Iranian separatist group that has for years advocated for Kurdish rights in Iran.
Alison Azer said her ex-husband was detained and later released in Iran on June 12, when authorities there acted on an Interpol “red notice” listing him as a wanted person and the children as missing persons.
She has retained Iranian legal counsel and is working to file a custody claim in Iranian courts.
• Angel donations site: donorbox.org/ alison-s-angels