When the Assad regime began sending snipers to shoot at demonstrators in 2011, initially the number of fatalities was few, and the resulting funerals were attended by neighbors and friends. In those days the snipers appeared to be deliberately targeting young men in their teens and early twenties. Some of the regime’s early victims like Hamza al-Khateeb and Ghiath Matar became symbols of the revolution and were considered martyrs for the cause of freedom. The fame they achieved after their deaths was acquired as a result of the horrifically brutal ways in which they were killed.
But Mashaal Tammo, whose execution was carried out by order of the Assad regime on October 7, 2011, was well known by all Syrians even before his death. Tammo, who was married with six children, had already been branded an enemy of the state and a previous assassination attempt had failed just one month earlier. A resident of Al-Qamishli at the time of his death, it seemed that the entire city was present at his funeral the following day. With an estimated 50,000 people in attendance, mourners were fired upon by Assad’s security forces as they had done during prior funeral processions in other cities. Five people were killed that day simply for wanting to pay their respects to a much-loved political figure.
In 2008, Tammo was arrested by the Assad regime and sentenced to three years in prison on charges of undermining the state’s authority
Born in Al-Dirbasiyah in the Al-Hasaka Governate in 1957, Tammo graduated with a degree in agricultural engineering and had been involved in politics since the 1990s. In 2005, Tammo founded the Kurdish Future Movement (a liberal youth movement that refused to be considered a political party) after an uprising by Syrian Kurds in Qamishli in 2004 culminated in a massacre by the Syrian Arab Army. In 2008, Tammo was arrested by the Assad regime and sentenced to three years in prison on charges of undermining the state’s authority.
In June of 2011, he was released from prison by Assad in an effort to calm the protests that had begun in Daraa in March and quickly spread across the country. After his release, Tammo rejected an offer to engage in dialogue with the regime, choosing instead to stand with the protesters demanding its downfall. Instead of trying to deter the Kurds from joining in the revolution as Assad had hoped he would do, Tammo chose to participate in the Syrian National Salvation Conference held in Istanbul where he delivered a speech from inside Syria that emphasized the unity of the Syrian people. He also became a member of the Syrian National Council which was established to represent the Syrian opposition on the international stage.
Contrary to the position held by major Kurdish political parties at the time, the Kurdish Future Movement Party that Tammo founded espoused that “Kurds were an integral part of the Syrian social fabric, and that Syria was the container that embraced all its sons.”
Even before the revolution began in 2011, Tammo was known for seeking a national identity free from party ideologies and narrow affiliations. Contrary to the position held by major Kurdish political parties at the time, the Kurdish Future Movement Party that Tammo founded espoused that “Kurds were an integral part of the Syrian social fabric, and that Syria was the container that embraced all its sons.” Tammo persisted in promoting a unifying national concept that could accommodate minorities as well as ethnic, linguistic, and sectarian diversity in Syria. This concept of prioritizing national identity over ethnicity had been the source of tensions in his relationship with Kurdish party leaders for years and also ran contrary to the regime’s propaganda that the revolution was actually a sectarian conflict.
“Our message to the tyrant of Syria is sent from the city of Al-Qamishli, the city of harmony between Arabs, Kurds, and Assyrians,” Tammo had said during the last speech he gave before his death. “The blood of Syria’s youth will not flow in vain. Bashar Assad, we will not allow you to get away with what you’ve done. You will be held accountable, and the future belongs to us.
“We don’t just want the overthrow of the president; we want his trial, and the trial of all those murderers who committed crimes against the youth and people of Syria. We say to all our detained comrades, spit in the face of your oppressors, for the future is ours.
“No oppressor can deter us, and no killer can deter us from our demand for a civil and pluralistic Syria, a Syria for all Syrians. Let us salute together all the besieged Syrian cities, from Daraa to Aleppo, from here to Latakia, to Homs and Hama. Let us salute all the Syrian youth and say to them: Long live Syria, and down with Bashar Assad.”
Although there was much speculation about who was behind the assassination of Mashaal Tammo at the time of his death, secret documents related to Syria that were leaked to Al-Arabiya were broadcast on its channel on October 10, 2012. These documents contained orders from the Assad regime regarding the assassination of Tammo with instructions to implicate Turkey in his death. The documents made it clear that the assassination orders came directly from the head of the regime, Bashar Assad, who directed the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, a branch of the Syrian intelligence apparatus, to carry out the operation that targeted Tammo by name.
Tammo’s assassination proved to be the spark that motivated many in the region to get off the fence and participate in the popular demonstrations
In the months leading up to Tammo’s assassination, Assad had been hoping that the Kurdish region in northern Syria would remain neutral. He even promised that more Kurds would be given Syrian citizenship, but never followed through on his promise. Instead, Tammo’s assassination proved to be the spark that motivated many in the region to get off the fence and participate in the popular demonstrations. Today the Kurdish region in northern Syria continues to be one of the areas no longer under the control of the Assad regime.