Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Riad al-Turk: Syria’s oldest and most resilient opposition figure dies

Riad al-Turk; Credit: Social Media

Prominent Syrian activist Riad al-Turk, nicknamed the “Syrian Mandela,” passed away in a Paris hospital on the first day of 2024. He spent decades in Syrian regime prisons due to his opposition stance, especially during the rule of Hafez Assad.

Syrian opposition members and political activists mourned the death of al-Turk who was 93 years old when he died in France where he was granted asylum after a long political and activist journey, most of it spent in detention or being pursued by Syrian security forces. His life had been threatened many times in Syria and after years of evading the watchful eyes of the security apparatus, al-Turk left Syria in 2018, escaping with the assistance of activists who smuggled him across the border into Turkey where he was able to apply for asylum in France.

most of al-Turk’s activism focused on opposing the ruling regimes in Syria that followed the country’s independence

Born in Homs in 1930, al-Turk acquired a law degree in 1958 but began his political career as an advocate for human rights while still attending law school. At that time, most of al-Turk’s activism focused on opposing the ruling regimes in Syria that followed the country’s independence from France in the mid-1940s.

Al-Turk faced imprisonment multiple times, notably in 1963, the year of the Ba’ath Party coup, and its assumption of power in Syria. He remained one of the prominent critics of the regime that solidified under Hafez Assad’s rule in 1970.

“I moved from the small prison to the larger one, and we all must seek to open its doors. I will not give up my right to engage in politics under any circumstances. I welcome prison if it is the price for sticking to one’s opinion and freedom of expression.”

Riad al-Turk

During Hafez Assad’s era, al-Turk spent 18 consecutive years in solitary confinement without trial due to his criticism of the country’s security methods and his membership in the “Communist Party – Political Bureau”.

Due to his deteriorating health, al-Turk was released from prison in 1998 but continued his opposition and struggle against the regime. In January 2000, a year and a half after his release, he stated, “I moved from the small prison to the larger one, and we all must seek to open its doors. I will not give up my right to engage in politics under any circumstances. I welcome prison if it is the price for sticking to one’s opinion and freedom of expression.” Al-Turk uttered his most famous quote when Hafez Assad died in 2000: “The dictator has died.”

Al-Turk became the spiritual father of the Syrian revolution that began in 2011 and had to hide from the watchful eyes of security forces due to his ardent support for the young revolutionaries

The Syrian regime re-arrested al-Turk in 2001, and the State Security Court sentenced him to two and a half years in prison on charges of “violating the constitution, delivering speeches with the intent of disobedience and inciting sedition, spreading false news undermining the nation’s resolve and psyche, and undermining the state’s prestige.”

Al-Turk became the spiritual father of the Syrian revolution that began in 2011 and had to hide from the watchful eyes of security forces due to his ardent support for the young revolutionaries and their fight for freedom, justice, and democracy in Syria. Unlike many of Syria’s prominent opposition figures, Riad al-Turk refused to leave the country until 2018 when the threat to his life became too serious to ignore.

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