Riad al-Turk, the ‘Mandela of Syria,’ Dies in Exile at 93

Riad al-Turk, a veteran Syrian opposition leader known as the “Mandela of Syria” after spending nearly two decades in prison for speaking out against his country’s dictatorial regimes, died on Jan. 1 in Eaubonne, a northern suburb of Paris. He was 93.

Mr. Turk’s death, at a hospital, was confirmed by his daughter Khuzama Turk in an interview.

Mr. Turk’s life was a dark mirror of his country’s torments, and his improbable survival was testimony to his will to endure. He was imprisoned four times, tortured repeatedly and spent nearly 18 years in solitary confinement, mostly in an underground cell with no windows. “We can say that it was about my height — it was the size of a small elevator,” he said in one of his last interviews.

One instance of torture, in 1987, left him in a coma for 25 days. Described by those who knew him as a modest, simple man, Mr. Turk continuously fought the Syrian government until 2018, at the age of 88, when he reluctantly fled to France to live in exile.

His “entire life has been about dissent,” the journalist Robin Wright, who interviewed him in Damascus, wrote in her book “Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East” (2008).

Mr. Turk began his career as a militant Communist, speaking out against dictatorship, and ended it as a symbol of resistance to successive tyrannies in Syria.

After being released in the spring of 1998 following nearly 18 years in prison under the long-ruling president Hafez al-Assad, Mr. Turk continued to speak out against Mr. Assad’s successor, his son Bashar al-Assad, despite knowing that he could be arrested again.

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