The Beginning Of My Ascendance
My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria|
(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria. Should the situation change or any breakthroughs be achieved, I will post it here*)Summary
My sister, Jacqueline "Nicole" Vienneau, a Canadian tourist, disappeared in Syria on Saturday, March 31st, 2007 at the age of 32. She was in her fifth month of a six-month solo adventure through West Africa and the Middle East. She was last seen by the desk clerk at 8:30 in the morning as she left the Cairo Hotel in Hama, two hours north of Damascus.
She definitely intended to return to the hotel as her backpack was left in her room along with the memory cards from her camera, full of photos. She also left her journals that include an entry made the night before she disappeared. Canadian police retrieved her Hotmail account email records indicating she attempted to login around 8:30 Friday night but was unable to (Syrian Internet connections are not reliable). Her last completed emails were sent Thursday night.
Nicole's guidebook was also left in her room. In the back of her Lonely Planet "Middle East" guidebook she wrote directions to a number of places in Syria that we believe she copied from the Cairo Hotel's copy of the Lonely Planet "Syria" guidebook. Nicole spoke with some guests about these locations earlier in the week and the hotel clerk indicated that on the morning she disappeared, she asked for directions to the "Beehive Houses", a local sightseeing destination, as well as Qasr Ibn Wardan (a nearby castle).
No one at these locations recalls seeing Nicole (and they are not heavily visited) and the Qasr Ibn Wardan logbook has a record of only one visitor, Amin Ben Yahia, a person of interest to us (b. 1984, Algerian/Swiss nationality, father is Abbas, mother is Monica) in hopes that he remembers something unusual about that day. UPDATE: On January 19th, 2019, Amine contacted me. He does not remember anything unusual.
Nicole preferred taking local transit, but none of the minibus drivers or locals remembers seeing her. As a foreigner, Nicole stood out in all of Syria, but particularly in Hama where the majority of women in Hama dress in robes and cover their hair. The streets from the hotel to the minibus pick-up are main streets with lots of people, even at 8:30 in the morning.
In May 2007, I flew to Syria with Nicole's fiancé Gary to re-trace her steps and meet with police and local officials. Gary spent an additional two months criss-crossing Syria searching for clues. My mother joined Gary in Syria in July 2007 and met with the Grand Mufti as well as the Minister of the Interior. She also made a personal plea on Syrian television and we put ads in the newspapers and local flyers. Gary and my mother returned to Syria in April 2008 to raise awareness and follow up on leads with officials and the police.
My mother returned to Syria with Gary for a third visit in March 2009 and we continue to work with Syrian government and police officials on the investigation.
There is up to 2,250,000 Syrian pounds ($45,000) in reward money for information leading us to Nicole.
We are currently looking for other guests at the Cairo Hotel in case they spoke with Nicole. A list is at the bottom of this page.
For pictures of Nicole and what she was wearing when she disappeared, as well as relevant personal information and summaries of the search so far, please visit:
From the "official" website, you can also submit anonymous tips, view the picture gallery and download posters and Nicole's notes. Arabic versions of most pages are also available.
You can always email me directly and anonymously at email@example.com
All comments and emails, public and private, are read immediately, but unfortunately I cannot respond to everyone. Feel free to respond in any language that you're comfortable with, though all of my responses will likely be in English.
March 31st, 2012 (Afternoon):
Today marks five years since Nicole disappeared from the Cairo Hotel or in the vicinity in Hama. Despite five years of searching, we really have no new clues as to what has happened to her, though we strongly suspect one of the hotel staff was involved.
Syria today is very different from Syria of five years ago. There are certainly no tourists in Hama anymore, and there probably won't be any going there in the immediate future either.
Hollywood tells us that stories always have an ending, but unfortunately that's just not true. In those first few weeks we were so confident we'd figure out what happened. And then as each lead dried up the worry in the back of our minds increased, "what if we never find her?". That has turned out to be the case and we may end up being one of those families still searching 20 or 30 years later. You can never really give up.
An old friend of Nicole's has been putting huge amounts of effort into finding her. He's been posting on Twitter and updating a blog with details. You can read some updates here, here, and here.
Other people continue to offer suggestions and take action. It is very difficult to keep up hope after so much time has passed. All we need is one person who knows or suspects what happens to come to us, but they'll probably be in Syria and unlikely to have access to us anymore. Hopefully one day.
March 6th, 2012 (Afternoon):
Canada has withdrawn all diplomats and government staff from Syria. All Canadians have been urged to leave Syria. As per the official Government of Canada Travel Report:
"Civil unrest and demonstrations have been occurring in many Syrian cities since March 2011. There has been extensive use of force by the security forces and military in suppressing demonstrations across the country. Many casualties and fatalities have been reported and protests and violent repression are likely to continue. Security operations have involved the complete lock-down of entire towns for periods varying from a few days to a few weeks. This may take place with little warning."
Needless to say, our hopes of getting any information about what happened to Nicole have diminished greatly in the short term.
February 11th, 2012 (Morning):
Syria continues to be in the news as world opinion is slowly being swayed by the stories of what is happening. Once again, no progress on our search as we approach nearly five years since Nicole went missing. To think that at first I thought this could be resolved in five days or at worse, five weeks!
January 7th, 2012 (Afternoon):
Another month of chaos in Syria. In early 2011, the violence in Syria wasn't making the international news very frequently, but that has certainly changed. It is not surprising that we have heard nothing from Syrian officials, Canadian embassy officials, or our own contacts within Syria. This makes it difficult to move forward in the search.( Click Here For Additional/Older Details...Collapse )
Current Mood: worried
Current Music: Gerard McMann - "Cry Little Sister"
Tags: jacqueline nicole vienneau missing syria
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 11:02 am (UTC)|| |
Lonely Planet's Thorntree
Just my 2 cents - Lonely Planet's Thorntree forums are an excellent resource for backpacker communications. 5 years ago I did some backpacking through southeast Asia and was literally amazed at how all the ex-pats and backpackers used it as a makeshift communications system. If I was you I would put word out via their forums. This is distressing news for everyone with a soul who reads it. I pray for your sister's safe return home.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 09:06 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Lonely Planet's Thorntree
An excellent idea, and one that a friend of ours in Vancouver beat me to - he added the link yesterday.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)|| |
I spent three weeks in syria albeit pre-iraq invasion. Getting money in syria electronically was almost impossible, so I went with $3000 dollars strapped to my leg. Also, at that time use of the internet was restricted and i dont remember seeing a single internet cafe. I left no record of bank withdraws and did not communicate with anyone out side of syria.
There are probably 3 or 4 Reuters and AP freelance reporters living in Damascus. They are usually 30 something guys, well traveled, super helpful, and often well connected. They are a good start for informed tightly-nit expat communities and might be able to offer some help.
hope everything turns out alright and when you sister comes back you can tell her she had the whole world worried.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 01:12 pm (UTC)|| |
Third World Countries
I wouldn't be worried just yet about this turn of events. When I was in Brazil I could not find any Internet cafes in the back water I was living in and the Internet at the hotel did not work. I was there for three weeks without Internet.
How long is she expected to be in Syria? Has she got explicit instructions to contact you and the other members of her family? If not, then I would just wait and she will eventually be in a position to use modern day technology for communication.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 12:41 pm (UTC)|| |
I hope she returns safely. Best og luck from Copenhagen.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 01:35 pm (UTC)|| |
Well if she ever makes it back I would tell her to keep her dumb ass out of Syria. I would suggest staying here to help the homeless, sick and dying here.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 01:55 pm (UTC)|| |
it is normal to disappear in Syria, things are so laid back and folks love to chill out.
Swedish girl returns after Syria disappearance
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 02:01 pm (UTC)|| |
Digg won't cut it
Hey man -- sorry to hear all this. I hope it takes a turn for the better.
My two cents worth, digg and other social sites are a good start, but I don't think that alone will cut it.
Have you tried involving the media? Did you write about this to news stations? Newspapers? Your MP or MPP?
A search on Google News on your sis' name still yields nothing..
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 02:25 pm (UTC)|| |
I'm really sorry to hear that ,
I can help in anything , I know Arabic and I have some friends there I will contact them
:( I hope she is fine
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC)|| |
yes there is a very important Canadian Embassy in Damascus. it serves both Syria and Lebanon. Normally Canadians "check in" with the embassy first so that the embassy can keep track of them.. did you try contacting the embassy yet?
I'm a Syrian Canadian, I will see what i can do. i will post this in Syrian forums for now.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Canadian Embassy
Much appreciated. That's the sort of linking we need to find people who speak the language and are on-site and able to ask around.
We've contacted Foreign Affairs, who then contact all the agencies. My sister was very independent and didn't check in with embassies when entering new countries.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC)|| |
You should try posting to news sites: ABC, MSNBC, etc. Maybe they'd run a story.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: New Sites
++agree. Contact the media, make as much noise as you possibly can. I really do hope this has a happy ending for ya.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 02:47 pm (UTC)|| |
hope to provide any kind of help
I don't know what they publish in their newspapers, but here is a list of Syrian newspaper sites you can check out if you haven't already:
and Turkish newspaper sites:
I wish you and your family the best. *HUG*
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC)|| |
Advice - Contact Israeli Amabassador
Israel keeps constant tabs on the Syrian border, and often has intel on Hezbullah, etc. I would try to get in touch with some Israeli contacts to see if they can provide you with any information that they would not otherwise share with the public.
Best of luck! Thoughts and prayers are with you and her and your family.
Re: Advice - Contact Israeli Amabassador
That's a really, really bad idea. Are you trying to waste his time?
Why would Israel have any information about a random Canadian backpacker in Syria? There are thousands of western tourists in Syria right now, and I don't think Israeli intelligence really cares about them. They are probably focusing on other things, don't you think?
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)|| |
It's Sasa here from the Syria News Wire. I have posted details of your appeal, and I hope it bears fruit very soon. My thoughts are with you and your family.
What's the best way for people to get in contact with you if they have any information? I have asked people just to add a comment here. Is that best?
Details are here: here. (http://saroujah.blogspot.com/2007/05/canadian-missing-in-syria.html)
The Canadian Embassies in Damascus and Ankara, and the Syrian and Turkish Embassies in Canada are your best bet.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: From Syria
I can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you very much for linking my search.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 03:55 pm (UTC)|| |
Contact Syrian Embassy in Ottawa
I will keep checking Syrian online news for accidents and such. Any accidents involving foreigners usually get published on frontpages.
Contact the Syrian embassy in Ottawa. they can issue an alert back there for her.613-569-5556
let us know.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)|| |
I hope she is found, Syria is the one of the last places to go. It is a hotbed of terrorists and extremist views. Why would anyone go there. You are just asking for it. It is a country that harbors terrorists and would harm any westerner if it had the chance.
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 06:12 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Good luck
There are terrorists and extremists of all kinds (social, religious, economic, militant, etc) everywhere who treat foreigners with disrespect, including in America.
It's best not to generalize or judge until you've been to the country of which you speak. (The media is full of propaganda everywhere.)
Instead, channel that negative energy into helping someone who needs your help, it will be much better received and welcome. :)
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 04:47 pm (UTC)|| |
From Syria Again
Hi - I wrote from Syria a few posts back;
I have just been to the four hotels in Saroujah - almost all backpackers stay at one of these four. Some understood what I was trying to explain better than others & I tried to check all of their 'log' books to see if there was any record of Nicole. I didn't find anything, but I have to stress that with my lack of Arabic vocab & their lack of understanding of the situation, it wasn't the most comprehensive search.
I also went to the Immigration Office but it was closed as today is a holiday.
We leave tomorrow, so I am sorry I can't help much further here. However, as I mentioned before & as one of the hotel owners said to me - the Canadian Consulate should easily be able to establish where she has been in Syria & if she has left or not.
There are only a handful of hotels that foreigners stay in, so it is really a case of them contacting these, along with the immigration department. I was told that if I went to immigration they probably wouldn't help, but if the consulate contacted them they would do all that they could.
I'm not sure what your dealings with the consulate are so far, but perhaps you need to talk to them again. When I went to the hotels I half expected them to say that the consulate had already been in touch with them, but clearly they had not.
It easy & cheap to extend a visa in Syria, however as mentioned, she may have travelled on to Turkey or beyond. I assume you're tracking with authorities there too?
I wish you all the best in your search & wish we were here longer to help.
I would suggest that maybe you put together a fact sheet or poster that someone could print out & distribute or show people on the ground here?
Finally, to all the people saying negative things here about Syria - I suggest you open your mind a little & think beyond what you see on your heavily biased western tv screens.
Syria is remarkably safe - it is the kind of country where people constantly offer you tea, food & invites to their home. Crime is almost non existent & I feel extremely safe. People are very very friendly indeed to tourists.
Some people in Syria may think that they are the lucky ones - I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone of the senseless violence that occurs daily in Europe & North America?
|Date:||May 1st, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: From Syria Again
Thank you so much for your efforts. It is very gratifying to know that all of this Internet work is turning into actual visits. You wouldn't happen to know the names of any of the places you checked?
I am going to pull together a list of easy to read facts as you've suggested and update the blog so it's available for everyone. I'm investigating whether there's already a poster in the works from the RCMP, and if not, I'll make one.
Thanks again, it's really appreciated that you went to this extra effort.
I'm in Turkey. Can I help?
Just read your post.
I'm an American living in Ankara. A friend of mine knows a guy at the Syrian embassy, and I know a lady who works at the Canadian embassy.
Let me know what i can do to help.
You can reach me at dennispmccann (at) paperdragonstudios.com