Abdallah Yousef Turkmani

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Turkey
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“Separation between members of the society in Lattakia was political or intellectual in nature in the past, then started to take a sectarian character in the seventies.”

Abdallah Yousef Turkmani was born in 1948 in the citadel district of Lattakia city, an old neighborhood populated by Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians and Armenians. Abdallah says, “In the city of Lattakia, we experienced what can be described as spontaneous national unity. The city's population was only about 100,000 so most people knew each other. Things began to change in the seventies with the arrival of people from rural regions, especially from the Alawite countryside, which contributed to the population's composition changing with the passage of time."

Abdullah says that he was influenced by both the Arab nationalist and Marxist tendencies that began in 1959, when he was only eleven years old. One day, he returned from school to find his mother dancing joyfully and chanting, "Allah el-Nasser Nasser Nasser" because the social security law for workers had been passed by Gamal Abdel Nasser, then President of the United Arab Republic.

Abdallah say, “In another incident at the end of the same year, Communists were arrested by the Unionist regime. We had a communist neighbor called Jaber. Security, or what was known then as the second bureau, came to arrest him but the neighborhood's children helped him escape over the rooftops of the adjacent houses. He was able to evade arrest and later fled to Beirut. Both of these two incidents greatly affected my consciousness and were a prelude to my future university dissertation.”

According to Abdallah, separation between members of the society in Lattakia had been political or intellectual in nature in the past, then started to take on a sectarian nature in the seventies, when it became clear that most of the security services came from the Alawite community. Exclusive Alawite districts emerged in the city, and the original Sunni and Christian populations began to feel the city’s “ruralization”. Resentment over this became more apparent within the Sunni community.

In 1963, the Ba'ath Party took over power in Syria. At the time, Abdullah had a strong inclination for Marxists, Socialists and National Unionists. In 1964, he joined the Ba'ath Party because the latter's slogans were calling for unity, freedom and socialism. In 1965, he became the secretary of the Student Union in Lattakia and forged extensive relationships and widespread friendships with several spectra in the region. He says, From the late 1960s, I began to lean towards the left more than towards pan-Arabism. I was influenced by the writings of both Yassin al-Hafiz and philosopher Elias Murcus, and I met some older youth who were admirers of Murcus. I finally withdrew from the Baath party after the extraordinary country conference held in 1968 on the accountability of the military leadership for the 1967 defeat. The conference produced no decisive results and this confirmed to me that the Baath Party was not leftist in character.”

Abdullah joined the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). He was detained in 1970 for two and a half months after he participated in the memorial service of one of the Front's cadres in Jisr al-Shughour city. Some speeches given during the funeral condemned the 1967 defeat and demanded that those responsible be held accountable. Security services besieged the place and arrested some activists.

In that same year, Abdullah went to the University of Damascus in order to study in the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics. He returned, therefore, to his student and political left-wing activism that consisted of refusing the power takeover by Hafez al-Assad. This caused him to be monitored and harassed by security services. He says, “In 1971 I was arrested for the second time and stayed in jail for about two months. After interventions and mediations, some friends and family members advised me to tone down my activities and pay more attention to my future and studies. That is why I traveled to Algeria with the help of a friend and stayed there for almost a year before returning to Syria, where I stayed until 1975. Later, I got married and traveled back to Algeria.”

Abdullah joined the Syrian Communist Party-Political Bureau after his first return from Algeria. He continued his political activities and led the 1976 sit-ins in front of the Syrian embassy in Algeria to protest the entry of the Syrian army into Lebanon. His name was listed by the Syrian security authorities because of this, which prevented him from returning to Syria permanently.

During his stay in Algeria, Abdullah completed his studies, received a bachelor's degree in history, and then pursued his graduate studies. In 1987, the policy of canceling employment contracts for foreign employees began with the priority being Algerians. He left for Cyprus because of his relations with the PLO and worked there as a director in the research division of a Palestinian Journal. Later, he moved to Belgrade because of the journal's relocation. He lived there for about two years before moving to Tunisia and working as a researcher at the Palestine Planning Center of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

He says, “I came to Tunisia in 1990 while still a radical. After I learned about Tunisia's experience and delved into it, I realized that all the radicalism of Baathists and communists was just an illusion, and that those we called reactionaries had managed to build their homelands much better than the Baath, the Left and the like. I specifically mean by this the Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, whom I had considered until then to be a reactionary man. In conclusion, my long stay in Tunisia until 2012 gave me rich experience and I became more mature intellectually and politically.

Abdallah has published eight books on communist parties in the Levant, the national issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict, development and human rights in the Arab world, and other important topics.