Dylan with his father Bruce Laybourn. This will be the first Christmas Dylan has spent at home since his kidnapping by his maternal grandmother when he was 4 months old. Photo / Provided
A New Zealand born boy involved in an international love affair is looking forward to celebrating his first real Kiwi Christmas.
Eighteen months ago, Dylan Laybourn, 13 years old, was reunited with his father Bruce and older sister Gerry, but they couldn’t celebrate with the whole family.
“For me, it was 12 years of dreaming of a Kiwi Christmas with Dylan and all the long things he’s been missing. Now every day is Christmas – it’s been a long journey but a very valuable goal,” said Bruce.
Dylan was 4 months old when he was kidnapped in 2007 by his mother Gulsen Nil Laybourn and his Kurdish mother during a three week trip to Turkey.
Bruce still regrets the day he hugged his newborn son in Auckland and handed him over to his maternal grandmother. He thought they took Dylan to visit the Nile family – but they never returned to New Zealand.
“My mother did warn me, ‘Mother Nile will steal your baby’.
“Grandma kept grabbing Dylan, so that’s a little hint. She patted me on the shoulder and said ‘I want to bring Dylan home’. I said ‘no, that will never happen’.”
Under the Hague Convention on the Abduction of Children, any custody disputes must be heard in the child’s country of origin. But Turkey did not recognize New Zealand’s membership in the convention at the time and granted custody of Nil.
Diplomatic efforts escalated to the point former Prime Minister Helen Clark wrote to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the case.
The effort to bring Dylan back to New Zealand was emotionally and financially grueling. Every year Bruce makes two trips to Turkey.
Regardless of geographical distance, the pair were close.
“She never understood why her father never stayed. We’ve talked about how much fun the reunion was and the heart-wrenching departure was. She had such a strong determination to come back here and she did.”
Dylan lives in a small apartment with his mother, a fitness instructor in Emirgan, a city on the European side of the Bosphorous in Istanbul.
He attended the Armenian Christian school in Ortakoy and is fluent in Turkish, English and Armenian.
Dylan said he didn’t miss the view of the concrete and cooped city.
“I don’t experience much of living in an apartment,” says Dylan.
Now, from his window at Ōmāpere in Hokianga Harbor, Dylan sees golden sand dunes, flowering pōhutukawa trees, and the never ending ocean.
The “robust” teenager, who towers over his father, loves the simplicity of rural New Zealand life and has inherited a love for fishing, sailing, cycling and kayaking.
“He doesn’t have to learn how to be a Kiwi kid, he was born here, it’s in his DNA,” said Bruce.
After visiting New Zealand with his mother in 2018, Dylan refused to leave.
“I calmly told my mother that I liked this place and wanted to live here. She didn’t take it very well and said ‘You can’t be serious?’ but I’ve made up my mind, “said Dylan.
Bruce and Nil reached a custody agreement that agreed to allow Dylan to return to live in New Zealand permanently and now he talks to his mother via Skype every day.
But for most of his life, Dylan was protected from the truth about his kidnapping.
When she was 9 years old, she Googleed her name and was “shocked” to find her mother’s family wanted $ 500,000 in exchange.
“As soon as I saw the video [report] about me being kidnapped on YouTube, my mind is made up. I told my mother’s family, ‘I’m going back to New Zealand.’ I was furious when I found out they wanted money for me. I thought ‘Wow, what a lowly thing to do. To steal someone’s child and then ask for money ‘. “
The only thing he misses about Turkey is his grandmother’s cooking.
“There aren’t that many kebab shops in Ōmāpere.”
Dylan said he was now ready to forgive his grandmother.
“He’s good to me, he’s a great cook and takes care of me. There’s no denying that I share a bond with him. In the end, if he apologizes and makes peace with me who lives here, I might forgive him.”
At Kerikeri High School he was “just Dylan” to his friends.
“Only a few kids know he was kidnapped and when people find out they are generally supportive and sympathetic – the story is interesting, but he’s just so ordinary,” said Bruce.
Her advice to parents going into custody battles is to “be patient.”
“It’s a game of patience. I know you really want to see your child and how sad it is. If you get too excited about a response, prepare yourself for disappointment. It’s a slow process.”
During the holidays Dylan can’t wait to pick shells from the rocks, have a barbecue and swim in the sea.
“I don’t think anyone has to go through this, it was unnecessary and caused a lot of damage. I want to thank my dad who never stopped fighting for me, he was amazing. Most dads wouldn’t go to fight hard for their child, but my son did. I am happy that I am here now and we are together. “