Inside the Gates: Bring Austin home
For freelance journalists, Syria is the world's most dangerous country to work in since the uprising in March of 2011.
In 2012, Austin Tice, a Georgetown alumnus, freelance journalist, and veteran captain in the U.S. Marine Corps from Houston, Texas, traveled to Syria to report on the unfolding crisis for various publications. He traveled extensively across the country to cover various aspects of the Syrian revolution for these media outlets, earning him a handful of awards.
Tice was 30-years-old; then, two days after his thirty-first birthday in August of 2012, he went missing.
In 2017, Yeghsa Vartanian of Anchorage, Alaska, had a chance encounter online that would forever change her life.
"I met his sister (Austin Tice) online," Vartanian said. "We were taking some classes in foreign languages and we befriended each other."
Vartanian said it didn't take long for them to connect on Facebook. Tice's sister Naomi would post stories and clips on her brother but Vartanian wasn't able to connect the dots right away.
"I didn't understand what she was doing at first," Vartanian said. "I just thought Tice was a household name like Smith or Jones. It wasn't until a little later that there was a news special on him that I realized Austin was her brother."
The connection sparked a campaign by Vartanian in the Anchorage area.
"I just felt like I needed to do something but wasn't quite sure what," Vartanian said. 'Then Naomi posted the website and I went on there and started reading. That's when I decided to write to President Obama, now-President Trump, along with [Lisa] Senator Murkowski and Congressman Don Young."
Vartanian says she was surprised with the response.
"I heard back from everyone," Vartanian said. "Everything has been positive."
Tice's mother Debra told “CBS This Morning" recently that the efforts by the Trump administration are very encouraging.
"This administration is all in, fifth gear, ‘let’s bring him home,’" Tice said. "That makes a difference in our everyday thinking. The Obama administration was good, but it didn't feel like they made it a priority."
Back in Anchorage, Yeghsa Vartanian is doing all she can to spread awareness.
"I got this picture of Austin from his family," Vartanian said. "I used that and some of the wording they requested, and together with a local artist, we made this banner. I got some help from some veterans to build the wooden sign and hang it up there. Last year, I had it in Spenard. This year, I have it on Tudor Road-- seems to be more traffic here."
Vartanian says she puts 10 to 20 flyers in the box located on her display. Frequently, she says she refills it.
"I think the word is getting out," Vartanian said. "He's an American veteran and he's someone that was kidnapped overseas and he kind of fell through the cracks in the American justice system and he needs to come back. Maybe somebody here knows something, you never know. Maybe Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young will be instrumental in bringing him home. It doesn't matter that he's from Texas-- he's an American."
When asked if Vartanian would join the family if Austin Tice ever makes it home, she replied, “I've done all of this work up here in Anchorage myself. The sign, the flyers and stuff. I would be just satisfied to know he's home. I don't need anything else."
For more information on Austin Tice, click here.
Questions or comments about this story? Email reporter Scott Gross.
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