Riad Al Turk is a prominent Syrian revolutionary leader, called the Old Man of the Syrian Opposition. He was secretary general of the Syrian Communist Party – Political Bureau (later renamed Syrian Democratic People’s Party) fromits foundation in 1973 until 2005. He has been a fixture of the Syrian opposition for over 40 years.
Al Turk has famously been repeatedly imprisoned throughout his life under several Syrian governments. He was first imprisoned as a law student in 1952 for opposing the coup which took place under Adib Shishakli. He was released a few months later. He was imprisoned once again in 1958 for opposing the merger of Syria and Egypt.
The longest amount of time he spent in prison was 18 years, after he was arrested in 1980 under Hafez al Assad. During the majority of this time, he was in solitary confinement in a cell the size of an elevator, and given no communication with the outside world, including any contact with or information about his two young daughters. According to Amnesty International, he was “tortured throughout his detention,” at one time falling into a coma for over 25 days after an intense torture session.
When Bashar al Assad took power in 2000 after the death of his father, Al Turk spoke up saying on Al Jazeera saying “In the past, we had a problem with the dictator, and now that problem is over – the dictator is dead.” He was once again sentenced to three years in prison after these remarks, confirming to many that there was no “old regime” in Syria, but that Bashar al Assad’s regime was continuation of the same repressive practices which has characterized his father’s regime.
Often called “Syria’s Mandela” for his role as the grandfather of the Syrian left, he spoke of the decolonial love with which one must engage Syrian revolutionaries coming out from under the Kingdom of Silence: “[N]ow we face a people emerging from their silence, are developing their own language, inventing their slogans and forms of action. Let us listen to them carefully, walk with them and not ahead of them and forbid ourselves to hijack their voices to our benefit” .(al Atassi, 2011, emphasis added).
He now lives in France with one of his daughters. He is the focus of the documentary “Ibn Al Am”, (The cousin) by Ali Atassi, dating back to 2001, showing his intimate thoughts and continuing revolutionary spirit for his beloved Syria. He was also the focus of a recent documentary filmed from the start of the Revolution to the beginning of 2012, called “Ibn Al Am” online.