Speaking to Today's Zaman, Ünal, who went missing shortly after crossing into Syria from Turkey on Aug. 20 to cover the civil war in the city of Aleppo, remarked that he had lost hope of being rescued after two months had passed after his arrest. He said he tried to contact the authorities in Turkey but failed. “Only God was with me,” said the journalist, who works for the US-funded al-Hurra television channel, while talking about the harrowing days he lived through in Syria.
“My daughter did not recognize me when I returned my home after my release. She just stared at me; it was a heart-rending moment. I hope nobody has to survive a similar experience,” continued Ünal.
The journalist added that when he and his Jordanian colleague Bashar Fahmi Kadumi, who is still being held in Syria, first came to the war-torn country, the people from Aleppo beat them as they thought Kadumi and Ünal were from President Bashar al-Assad's side. Later, people in disguise stopped the two and said officials from al-Assad's soldier corps would take them to a safe place. Ünal further noted that he was not subjected to any ill treatment during his captivity.
The released journalist's wife, Nuran Ünal, pointed out that she still cannot believe her husband has returned home. “My only wish was for the safe return of my husband. Thank God he is at home now. I hope we will be as happy as before,” she added.
News of Ünal's freedom came after a delegation of Republican People's Party (CHP) deputies went to Syria earlier to negotiate his release. CHP Hatay deputy Hasan Akgöl told Turkish media on Saturday that Ünal had been handed over to the Turkish delegation and that they would return to Turkey later that day. The fate of Jordanian journalist Kadumi was unknown, the deputies said.
In the meantime, President Abdullah Gül expressed pleasure at the release of the Turkish journalist and appreciation for the efforts of the Turkish lawmakers and the delegation from the CHP. “These people are reporters, so we should not consider them in a different light [out of context],” Gül said while responding to reporters' questions in the northern province of Karabük on Saturday.