Embassy cable tells of
elderly American's escape from Iran
- Simon Tisdall
Sunday 28 November 2010
"simple extortion": it was
made clear, he said, that $150,000 (£92,000)
would facilitate his departure.
Hossein Ghanbarzadeh Vahedi's horseback
crossing of the mountainous Turkey-Iran border
stunned American consular officials. Photograph:
When Hossein Ghanbarzadeh Vahedi, a 75-year-old
American of Iranian descent, decided to visit
relatives in Tehran in May 2008, he took a flight
from Los Angeles in the normal way. When he
returned home, his means of transport was
somewhat less orthodox.
After seven months in
which he was prevented from leaving Iran,
had his passport confiscated and saw his appeals
ignored by the revolutionary courts, Vahedi took
matters into his own hands. In a daring escape,
he mounted a horse, hired two guides, and began a
perilous 14-hour overnight climb across the
freezing mountains of north-western Iran into
After that he took a bus.
On 9 January 2009, Vahedi turned up at the
consular section of the US embassy in Ankara and
asked for assistance. To the evident astonishment
of American diplomats, Vahedi appeared in good
health, but for "a few aches and pains"
caused by a fall.
untold ordeal, and its happy conclusion, is
related in a confidential diplomatic cable from the
Ankara embassy seen by the Guardian. In it
Vahedi, who left Iran during the 1979 Islamic
revolution, tells how his sojourn to his parents'
graves and ancestral home turned into a nightmare.
His passport was confiscated at Tehran airport as
he was about to fly home and the Iranian
authorities repeatedly refused to return it, he
said. There appeared to be two reasons. One was
"simple extortion": it was made clear,
he said, that $150,000 (£92,000) would
facilitate his departure.
Second, Vahedi said, Iranian government
officials told him that he should tell his LA-based
sons to stop promoting concerts in the Gulf by
Persian pop singers that were considered "anti-regime".
He replied that his sons were typical "strong,
independent" Americans who would do no such
Of the four commonly used illegal escape
routes, he opted for the mountain trail into
Turkey. "At one point during the 14-hour
ride, the escorts had to physically hug him to
keep him warm," the cable recounted. "As
an inexperienced rider, hours into the climb,
Vahedi lost his concentration and fell off the
horse, tumbling into the woods. He told [diplomats]
that at this point he really believed he was
going to die by freezing to death on a
Even when he reached the other side of the
border, Vahedi's ordeal was not over. Turkish
officials declared him an illegal immigrant and
ordered his deportation back to Iran. Luckily for
him, US embassy officials had a quiet word with
the Turkish foreign ministry and he was
allowed to fly home.