‘Syrian Mandela’ Riad Turk passes away at 93 in France

Syrian dissident Riad Turk, who has been compared to Nelson Mandela for spending years in prison for his staunch opposition to the government, died Monday in exile in France, his daughter said.

“My father died peacefully and satisfied of what he has accomplished, surrounded by his two daughters and his grandchildren,” Khuzama Turk told AFP. He was 93.

France’s ambassador to Syria Brigitte Curmi wrote on X: “The Syrian Mandela Riad Turk just left us after a whole life of struggle for a free and democratic Syria.

“May his aspirations for a dignified life for Syrians continue to inspire our work.”

Turk fled to France in 2018 after being exfiltrated out of Syria by militants into neighbouring Turkey.

He had gone into hiding after being freed from his last spell in jail in 2002 for declaring “the dictator is dead,” following the death of former president Hafez al-Assad.

In total he had spent 17 years imprisoned, often without trial, on claims of various offences under Hafez al-Assad and later his son Bashar when he became Syria’s president.

Turk was the longtime leader of the dissident Syrian Communist Party – Political Bureau, which was outlawed by Bashar al-Assad and later renamed the Syrian Democratic People’s Party.

He supported peaceful anti-government protests which broke out in Syria in 2011, and backed the Syrian National Council which brought together opponents of Assad as the country’s civil war intensified.

“Our revolution is peaceful, popular and rejects sectarianism, and the Syrian people are one,” Turk declared in October 2011.

“There will be no compromise nor negotiations about our goal of toppling this despotic regime.”

Several Syrian opposition figures paid homage to Turk, who author Yassin Al-Haj Saleh described as “one the most eminent fighters for democracy in Syria”.

Syria’s conflict has left more than half a million dead and displaced millions after spiralling into a war involving foreign armies, militias and extremists.

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