Goodbye, Michel Kilo

Goodbye, Michel Kilo
Comment: Racha Abazied remembers Michel Kilo, a key figure in the Syrian opposition who dedicated his life and work to the struggle for democracy in Syria.
4 min read
27 Apr, 2021
Michel Kilo died in Paris last Monday of Covid-19 [Getty]
Michel Kilo, a key figure in the Syrian opposition, died in Paris, on the morning of 19 April 2021, of Covid-19.

A writer, journalist and committed pacifist, Kilo was above all a political man. He dedicated his life to the struggle for democracy in Syria and hoped one day to witness the birth of a free and inclusive state in his homeland; one respectful of pluralism and human rights. 

Born in 1940 into a Christian family in Latakia, Kilo was drawn to left wing politics at an early age. His involvement in protests against Hafez al-Assad led to his first arrest and a two year prison term, from 1980 to 1982. After his release, he lived as an exile in France for three years before returning to Syria in the early 1990s.

He worked translating and writing political books and articles. A scholar of German, he translated many books into Arabic, as well as writing political essays and two novels. His last work, published in 2020, was Min al-ʾoma ili al-ṭā'fa, ('From nation to confession'), a critical study of the Baathist regime and the sectarian Syrian state from 1947 until the popular uprising in 2011.

During the 'Damascus Spring' of 2000, Michel Kilo was one of the opposition leaders challenging Bashar Al-Assad, demanding a multi-party system, the end of the state of emergency and the release of political prisoners. Although the repressive regime quickly tightened its grip and arrests began again with renewed vigour, Kilo, a fervent believer in dialogue, joined with other Syrian intellectuals to continue to propose reforms to the Baath party, all of which were rejected.

It is a cruel twist of historical fate when a patriotic voice for the opposition is extinguished in exile while the tyrants remain in power

Michel Kilo was arrested in May 2006 and condemned in May 2007 to three years in prison. His crime was having added his signature to those of over 300 other Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals on the 'Beirut-Damascus Declaration', which called for democracy and urged Syria to recognise and re-establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon.

At the beginning of the 2011 revolution, hoping for a peaceful process of transition, Kilo participated in a meeting of Syrian intellectuals at the Semiramis hotel in Damascus. He later distanced himself for a time from the two major opposition groups, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the Coalition for Democratic Change.

Once more forced into exile, in 2012 he again sought refuge in France, where he founded an independent movement, the Syrian Democratic Forum. In 2013 he re-joined the SNC for two years and attempted to strengthen the country's democratic and civil base, also creating the association Union of Syrian Democrats in that year, before stepping back again to focus on his writing and journalism.

Read more: Michel Kilo's columns for The New Arab

Before his death last Monday, Michel Kilo wrote a letter from his hospital bed which he addressed to the Syrian people. He said, "No aim is more important than liberty. Hold on to it, seek it in all things, whether large or small, never abandon it.

"It alone contains the death of tyranny. Life is the sense of liberty and there is no sense to life without liberty. Liberty is what our people most urgently require if they are to re-discover themselves, to affirm their identity and to restore the sense of the word 'citizenship' to our land." 

Like all important figures in Middle East politics, Michel Kilo had his detractors, but no one would contest the significance of the place he occupied in the history of his country, his love for his homeland or the depth of his commitment to democracy.

Those who knew Michel Kilo will remember an imposing man with a keen mind and a powerful voice. They will also remember his culture, his humanity, his smile and his sharp sense of humour. It is a cruel twist of historical fate when a patriotic voice for the opposition is extinguished in exile while the tyrants remain in power. The Arab Centre for Political Studies and Research would like to offer an homage to Michel Kilo, as well as expressing heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

Goodbye, Michel Kilo. May you rest in peace alongside all those who have given their lives in the pursuit of liberty.

Racha Abazied is the founder and president of Syria MDL -  a cultural organisation providing support to the Syrian people. She also manages CAREP Paris' editorial products and events.

This article is translated and cross-posted here with permission from its original publisher, CAREP, Paris.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.