The Syrian Democratic People’s Party (until 2005 the Syrian Communist Party (Political Bureau), was also known as the Syrian Communist Party (Riyad al-Turk)) (Arabic: حزب الشعب الديمقراطي السوري Hizb Al-Sha’ab Al-Dimuqratiy Al-Suriy) is a left-wing, democratic opposition party in Syria that is banned by the Syrian government. It is a part of several Syrian opposition alliances which are aimed at overthrowing the ruling Ba’ath Party, the National Democratic Rally, and the Damascus Declaration.
Origins and split from the SCP
The party was formed from a split in the Syrian Communist Party, beginning in the late 1960s with disagreements over Arab nationalism and the authoritarian leadership of Khaled Bakdash. Radicals around Riyad al-Turk criticized Bakdash and asked for internal party democracy, as well as a more favorable view towards Arab nationalism and pan-Arabism. They later objected to the Bakdash leadership’s decision to join the pro-government National Progressive Front (NPF) in 1972. Essentially the choice facing the Communists then was to submit to the leadership of the Ba’th Party in the NPF, which brought a variety of restrictions, or attempt to function outside the law. The old leadership of the party under Bakdash chose the former option; the more left-wing elements followed Riad al-Turk into opposition, finalizing the split in the party. Turk’s faction took the name SCP (Political Bureau), but was also known by the name of its leader, as SCP (Turk).
In opposition
The party was able to operate reasonably effectively at first, although it was never very large, and for some time it negotiated over conditions of joining the NPF. However, Syria’s intervention on the side of the Maronite militias and the Lebanese government against Arab nationalist and leftist Lebanese and Palestinian rebels, caused a firm break in relations. The SCP (Political Bureau) publicly and strongly condemned the intervention, provoking a crackdown from the government of Hafez al-Assad. The party then engaged in active opposition to the regime, and in 1979 participated in the creation of the National Democratic Rally (NDG), with four other leftist and nationalist opposition parties; it also, while itself renouncing violence, advocated dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni Islamists, who were then engaged in an armed uprising against the government. This led to a harsh campaign of political repression, culminating in 1980 with the arrest of al-Turk and numerous other party members. Turk was not released until 1998, and became known as one of Syria’s most prominent prisoners-of-conscience.
After the death of Hafez Al-Assad
The party benefitted from the decreased political repression of the last two years of Hafiz al-Asad’s rule and after his death, its members were very active in the Damascus Spring, a brief period of intense political and social debate that flourished in the second half of 2000 and in 2001. Riyad al-Turk was arrested as the government stamped out most of this activity in the autumn of 2001, when he outraged the regime’s sensibilities by remarking on television that “the dictator has died”, in reference to Hafiz al-Asad. He was imprisoned, but later released following international pressure.
In 2005, the party held a clandestine conference at which it adopted new rules and changed its name to the Syrian Democratic People’s Party, signalling its adoption of western- style Social Democracy as its ideology, rather than its previous Soviet-style marxism-leninism; since the early 1980s, it had been highly focused on democracy issues, and the 2005 conference essentially formalized a development long in being.
Party leader Faeq al-Mir was arrested in December 2006 after being taped by Syrian intelligence agents calling Lebanese politician Elias Atallah to offer condolences for the death of Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon’s Minister of Industry. Al-Mir was charged with “undertaking acts that weaken national sentiment during times of conflict” and “communicating with a foreign country to incite it to initiate aggression against Syria or to provide it with the means to do so” and sentenced to three years in prison.[1] Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his release.[2]
Today, the SDPP is a prominent in-country opposition faction. Its membership figures are believed to be very small whatsoever. However, the SDPP benefits from the considerable prestige of Riyad al-Turk, who, despite resigning as party leader in 2005, remains its most well-known face. The party has remained a member in the NDG, and it has also been very prominent in the Damascus Declaration, a more broadly based oppositional manifesto-turned-coalition begun in 2005.[citation needed]
During The Syrian Revolution
The Syrian regime arrested three prominent members of the party, after the begining of the popular uprisings in 2011; Ghias Uyoun al-Soud, the party secretary general, Omar Kashash, a trade unionist from the city of Aleppo, and Fahmi Yousef. They were all soon released. The party joined the Syrian National Council in 2011 through its participation in the Damascus Declaration. George Sabra, a party member, was elected as the president of the National Council in 2012