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After four years, family remains hopeful

Video appeals to Syrian government to release former Arkansas resident by FRANK E. LOCKWOOD ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | February 23, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The family of former Arkansan Majd Kamalmaz marked the fourth anniversary of his disappearance last week, releasing a video on YouTube appealing for his release.

The Syrian-American psychotherapist, detained at a government checkpoint in the Damascus suburbs during a visit to his native land, hasn’t been seen or heard from since, his family said.

Syria has never publicly acknowledged detaining Kamalmaz.

The new video, narrated by Kamalmaz’s daughter, Maryam Kamalmaz, features friends, family members and colleagues of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock alumnus.

During a voice-over, Kamalmaz describes the 63-year-old father of five and grandfather of 13 as “an amazing man who has an enormous heart full of compassion and love for others.”

“My father found his passion to treat survivors of trauma and emotional distress,” she says. “When he was a young man living in Little Rock, Ark., he counseled troubled youth and fell in love with healing others. Soon after he completed his studies in psychology, he came to the conclusion that he was going to treat those who had experienced the most severe form of trauma.”

As a psychotherapist, he traveled across the country and around the world, helping wounded people heal.

Sometimes, the suffering was from natural disasters; he treated survivors of Hurricane Katrina after it hit New Orleans and survivors of a tsunami that hammered portions of Indonesia.

In other instances, the devastation was man-made: bloodshed in Bosnia and Kosovo; the civil war in Syria.

After visiting Syrian refugees at camps in Lebanon in 2013, Kamalmaz established treatment centers there as well.

In February 2017, he traveled to Syria to visit relatives; his father-in-law had recently died.

He checked with Syrian officials ahead of time to make sure there were no impediments to his entry, his daughter said.

He called his wife on Valentine’s Day; the following day he was “unexpectedly and unjustly detained by the Syrian government,” she stated on the video.

“We haven’t heard his voice since. Yet we know he’s alive and being held hostage,” she says. “Please reach out to your representatives and ask for the release of Majd and all of the unjustly detained people in Syria.”

Soon after his disappearance, Kamalmaz’s family appealed to the U.S. government for help in obtaining his release. The FBI has released a missing-person’s poster — in English as well as Arabic — highlighting his plight.

In February 2019, then-President Donald Trump emphasized his desire to bring Americans like Kamalmaz home, touting his success in obtaining release for detainees elsewhere.

“I’m 19 and 0, and I am now starting [on] the Syria hostages. Yes. And I have a very good record,” Trump told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

In the months that followed, the Trump administration did not forget about Kamalmaz, his family said.

Last year, Roger Carstens, the U.S. special envoy for sostage affairs, and a White House counterterrorism official, Kash Patel, traveled to Syria to discuss the case of Kamalmaz, journalist Austin Tice and other Americans believed to be held there, The Wall Street Journal reported in October.

In July, Carstens said that “[b]ringing home Majd, along with all U.S. citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, has the attention of the highest levels in the U.S. government.”

Members of Congress also have been helpful.

For the 2019 State of the Union Address, U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., invited one of Kamalmaz’s sons to attend as his guest. Since then, Hill has regularly highlighted Kamalmaz’s detention.

Kamalmaz was born in Syria and his family immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, living initially in southern California before settling in Arkansas.

After the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, Kamalmaz’s parents “wanted to find a good place” where they could enjoy “a quiet, nice life,” his wife, Hasna said.

They found it in the Natural State, she added.

In an interview, Maryam Kamalmaz said her father’s time in Arkansas helped shape him. While studying, he did work in Central Arkansas for Stepping Stone, she said. (It would eventually merge with other entities to form the Centers for Youth & Families Inc.)

The psychotherapist’s eldest daughter, Ula Kamalmaz, was born in Arkansas.

The Kamalmazes now live in Grand Prairie, Texas, west of Dallas.

In previous years, the family has traveled to Washington in February to publicize their father’s plight. Because of coronavirus restrictions and post-insurrection security concerns, Capitol Hill is shut off this year.

So the family is spreading its message on social media instead.

In the video, former Syrian detainee Sam Goodwin of Missouri holds a sign declaring: “Bring Majd Kamalmaz Home!”

Diane Foley, the mother of war correspondent James Foley, holds a sign that says: “Majd Kamalmaz is my hero. Bring Majd home!”

James Foley was kidnapped while covering the Syrian civil war and later slain by his captors.

In an interview, Hasna Kamalmaz said she would like her husband to know how much he is missed and how committed the family is to obtaining his release.

“We’re working very, very hard … just to get him out and bring him back here,” she said, during a phone call from Texas.

“We love him so much,” she said. “We didn’t forget.”

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