Nicknamed “the Syrian Mandela” for his long years spent in the jails of the Damascus regime, the historic opponent Riad Turk died Monday January 1 in France at the age of 93, Agence France-Presse reported. daughter, Khuzama Turk.

“My father died peacefully, satisfied with what he accomplished, surrounded by his two daughters and his grandchildren,” said an emotional Khuzama Turk. “I feel he is mourned by many Syrians. But, as he often said, Syrian youth will continue on the same path as him,” she added.

Considered one of the fiercest opponents of the Damascus regime, Riad Turk spent more than seventeen years in the jails of President Hafez Al-Assad, before being imprisoned again in 2001 by his son, President current, Bashar Al-Assad. Sentenced to two and a half years in prison, he was however released in November 2002 for health reasons.

Tributes in Syria

“Respect and humility before the life of hard fights for the freedom and dignity of the Syrian Mandela Riad Turk, who has just left us,” wrote on X, Brigitte Curmi, French ambassador for Syria.

Many activists and intellectuals from the Syrian opposition also paid tribute to him. Several of them cited his famous phrase: “The dictator is dead”, which he had dared to utter upon the death of Hafez Al-Assad and for which he had been sent back to prison during the mandate of Assad Jr.

“Riad Turk has passed away… He was one of Syria’s most prominent democracy activists,” Syrian writer and political dissident Yassin Al-Haj Saleh wrote on X, praising his “courage.”

Riad Turk was granted protection by France under “constitutional asylum”, reserved for those who act in favor of freedom (journalists, community activists, artists, intellectuals, etc.). He was for a long time secretary general of the dissident faction of the Syrian Communist Party-Political Bureau, banned by the Assad government and renamed in the 2000s Syrian Democratic People’s Party.

He was also a signatory to the “Damascus Declaration,” a manifesto adopted in 2005 by Syrian opposition groups, calling for “radical, democratic change” in the country. After the start of the civil war in 2011, this native of Homs (160 kilometers north of Damascus) gave his support to the protest movement, then peaceful, as well as to the Syrian National Council, a body born in the summer of 2011 in Istanbul to bring together opposition forces.