It is not that common for the Kurdish media, with their limited resources, to break a story every day, especially not one that will soon make international headlines. But when Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd disappeared under vague circumstances in the border area between Iraq’s Kurdistan region and Iran, Kurdish news Web sites reported it before international media.
Bauer, a journalist who wrote for New America Media, among a number of other outlets, is currently being detained by the Iranian government along with his girlfriend, Shourd, and their friend Fattal.
A Kurdish news Web site called Awene (Mirror) was among the first, if not the first, Kurdish outlet that broke the news. On the afternoon of July 31, Awene quoted local Kurdish officials as saying that three Americans were missing in the Hawraman region (that includes Ahmed Awaa, the resort area where the three were hiking). But it did not provide any details about their identity or what they were doing there.
A short while later on the same day, Awene reported the identity of the missing three Americans. Up to that point, the news reports raised suspicions as to who they were and why they had gone to that particular part of the country where not many foreigners go. Then more news reports came out saying they were tourists who had gone to the popular summer resort.
Several hours after the Kurdish Web sites broke the news, international news agencies like AP started reporting the story as well. With the news of three missing Americans circulating around the world fast, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) — in control of the area inside Iraq where the three had been hiking — released a statement. It gave more details of the itinerary of the missing hikers, saying they had entered Iraq from Turkey on July 28.
“After walking around the area and hiking the mountain, they lost their way due to their lack of familiarity with the location, and entered Iranian territory. On July 31 at about 1:30 p.m., they were detained by the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the border,” the statement read.
The KRG also said it was in touch with Iranian consulate officials in Kurdistan in order to “find a solution.”
Kurdistan has been spared much of the violence that has engulfed the rest of Iraq over the past several years. Kurdish officials tout their region as a tourist and business destination that is friendly to foreigners and where no foreigner has been abducted or killed despite the mess in the rest of the country. The KRG had serious concerns that the news might reflect negatively on foreigners who may want to head to Kurdistan on business or tourism.
Kurdish media also were quick to break the news that the local police had managed to locate some of the personal and camping materials that the hikers had left behind in Ahmed Awaa.
On Wednesday, Peyamner, a Kurdish Web site close to the government, quoted a KRG official in charge of relations with Iran as saying that they had held three meetings with Iranian consulate officials in the Kurdish region to obtain more information on the three missing Americans.
“The Iranian consulate in Irbil told us that the three were arrested because they had entered Iran’s soil,” Abdullah Akreyi, Kurdish liaison with the Iranian consulate, told Peyamner. “They (the consulate) are now talking with Tehran on this issue, but have not given us precise and complete information yet.”