NEW: "Today is my happiest day," captive journalist says in video
A Turkish charity group released video of two journalists who had been feared dead in Syria
Turkish journalists Adem Ozkose and Hamit Coskun went missing in March
The Humanitarian Relief Foundation is negotiating for the release of the two men
Two Turkish journalists who were feared dead after being missing for nearly two months in Syria appeared in a video released by a Turkish charity organization negotiating for their release.
In the two-minute video, reporters Adem Ozkose and Hamit Coskun smile, shake hands and hug Bulent Yildirim, the leader of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a Turkish Islamist charity organization widely known by its Turkish acronym IHH.
“Today is my happiest day. It is the most beautiful day of my life,” Coskun said in the video.
Ozkose, a reporter for the Turkish publication Gercek Hayat, and Coskun, a freelance cameraman, went missing while filming a documentary.
They were last heard from on March 9 as they were traveling through Syria’s troubled Idlib province on their way back to Turkey, said Ozkose’s father, Mustafa, in a telephone interview with CNN.
IHH has been negotiating with Syrian and Iranian officials to obtain the journalists’ release. The group would not say who is holding them or why, citing the sensitivity of negotiations.
A spokesman for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he had no official information about who is holding the men. Syrian officials have not answered formal requests by Turkey about whether the journalists were in government custody.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador and diplomats from Damascus in March as relations drastically deteriorated between the countries.
On Saturday, the elder Ozkose said his son astonished his family when he suddenly made a three-minute phone call to his wife.
“For two months we didn’t even know whether they were alive or dead so we had so many concerns and worries. Now at least that has lifted,” Mustafa Ozkose said. “We are so happy that it is impossible to explain in words.”
IHH officials claimed responsibility for arranging the phone call.
“As a result of negotiations that have been on going, an IHH diplomatic delegation was able to visit Adem Ozkose and Hamit Coskun where they were in Damascus and managed to have both Adem and Hamit make calls to their families,” said Serkan Nergis, a spokesman for the charity.
“This was a very positive step,” he said.
IHH conducts charitable activities around the world, particularly in Muslim countries. The group attracted widespread international attention in 2010 when it helped organize an aid convoy to Gaza led by the passenger ship Mavi Marmara. Israeli commandos attacked the ship, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American citizen. The incident led to a rupture in relations between Turkey and Israel, all but destroying a military alliance between the two countries.
For the past year, the IHH has been a leading Turkish critic of the ongoing government crackdown in neighboring Syria, which has left more than 9,000 people dead. IHH activists have often participated in small, peaceful protests outside the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul.
In an April 23 statement, the group said it had worked with Iranian and Syrian counterparts to broker the release of two elderly Iranians who had been held by Syrian opposition members.
At the time, IHH publicly linked the release of the Iranians to the proposed safe return of Ozkose and Coskun to Turkey.
The Syrian government has for the most part prevented foreign journalists from freely entering the country throughout an anti-regime uprising that has gone on for more than a year.
Turkish citizens do not need visas to travel to Syria. Nonetheless, the Syrian government has detained and deported a number of Turkish journalists who tried to work in the country. One group of reporters did not even make it past the airport before being sent back home.
The tight restrictions have prompted news organizations, including CNN, to smuggle reporters into Syria.
According to a six-point peace plan brokered last month by the United Nations, Damascus pledged to allow foreign journalists into Syria. However, news organizations, including CNN, are still being denied visas into the country.
CNN’s Anna Ozbek contributed to this report.