They took him in the night and shot three of his family members – injuring two and killing one.
“It is difficult to describe,” Esmat Nazaryar says of the ordeal, which lasted a day and two nights in April of this year in the eastern part of Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan.
“It’s a shock. It’s a bad dream.”
In nearly four decades of work in the world’s most dangerous countries, it was a surprising first for the Hope International Development Agency: one of their partners on the ground was taken hostage.
John King, Hope director of development, received word from Nazaryar’s family within 24 hours of the kidnapping. King sent an e-mail saying “to pray for him.”
Residents of 100 Mile House might already be familiar with the South Cariboo Afghanistan Project and the charitable work completed in the village of Jeloucha, led by Nazaryar. With financial support from Hope International and the Aga Khan Foundation, the project has aided in the construction of a medical clinic, clean water system, roads, a seed and animal bank and a new school that can accommodate 2,000 students. More work in neighbouring villages in Afghanistan’s Khan Abad District has also begun.
King says Hope International has spent close to $500,000 in the area since 2004 when the project began, with approximately $80,000 coming from donors in the South Cariboo. Nazaryar is Hope International’s country director in Afghanistan and spearheads the program.
“It’s quite a story,” says King, who has been working for the non-profit international development agency for more than 30 years.
“How do you survive a culture like that where there’s war on, where people are shooting people, where life isn’t very valuable. [Nazaryar] has managed to work his way through all that and been able to help thousands of people change their lives.”
Nazaryar speaks about what happened to him with some difficulty. He’s a Canadian citizen and wants more action from both the Afghan and Canadian governments in bringing justice to the matter that saw his abduction, torture and confinement, his brother and his cousin shot, and another cousin killed.
“I don’t know how I woke up. Whether they grabbed me or they … I don’t know.
“I opened my eyes. I saw something black. I jumped and screamed and just [started] fighting. They grabbed me.
They said, ‘Come out. We’ll shoot you. Come out’ … My cousin was staying in the room. He was killed. And they took me out.
They took me in one car. I believe there was five people in the car. There was a motorcycle and some other people I didn’t see. They tied my hands and clothed my eyes.”
Nazaryar is Hazara, a minority people in Afghanistan. From their accents, he knows the men who took him are Pashtun.
They took him to a tiny house in Khan Abad, a town near Jeloucha, where Nazaryar is from and where his father is a former chief.
“I was able to open my eyes and I looked around. But then I quickly sat back as soon as I saw the person with the gun [a Kalashnikov]….
“Later on at night, they tied me up again with chains. From time to time, they came to check on me. Standing there. Not talking much….They dug a hole in the ground and put me in that…then put something on my head (to cover me). It was an animal’s place.”
His kidnappers most likely wanted him for ransom, but they didn’t get the chance to make any demands.
Nazaryar doesn’t want the circumstances of his escape publicized, citing ongoing work into figuring out what exactly happened.
“I call it ‘escape,’ But, God helped me.”
King says there are ongoing safety concerns that need to be considered.
“If he says something [about how he escaped], he could get somebody killed.”
Jack Witty, formerly of 100 Mile House, has been involved with the South Cariboo Afghanistan Project since its inception. He recently moved to his son’s ranch in Lac la Hache, following the death of his wife last year.
Witty was joined by King and Nazaryar at the United Church in 100 Mile House on Aug. 25, where people got a chance to view some of the latest photos from Jeloucha and hear about new developments.
“It’s a farmer-to-farmer kind of thing,” Witty says of the charitable relationship between the two places.
“I just try to act as a catalyst. I think the people of the South Cariboo who have helped with this project have done amazing things. What’s that cliché? ‘The stranger is the friend I don’t know.’”
King calls Witty “the go-to-guy” and gives him credit for keeping the project front-and-centre in the minds of people in the South Cariboo by providing regular updates on Jeloucha.
Future work there will focus on helping a women’s group that has recently formed and helping farmers in the area develop a diversified and self-sustaining agricultural industry.
Nazaryar first came to Canada from Afghanistan in 1986, fleeing fighting and persecution after the Soviet invasion, and has been travelling back and forth since then. Currently, he lives in Surrey with his wife and four children. Despite the inherent danger involved, and even with so much already accomplished and much of his family living safely in British Columbia, Nazaryar says it would be “selfish” if he gave up his work in Afghanistan.
“People come from all over the cities – not just Khan Abad, not just Jeloucha – from everywhere they come to see me. I heard the people – women, men, old, young – sitting, crying, praying, asking for help. I never thought people would care that much about me.
“If all those people care about me, why is it not selfish if I say, ‘This happened, I’m not doing anything anymore, forget it.’ My heart is saying it would be selfish [to quit].
“I will die one day anyway. Whether this way or some other way, I’ll die. If I can give people help, if I can give people a chance, then I think I shouldn’t stop. That’s why I’m not stopping and I want to do more.”