Little is known about his childhood or teen years. In 1977, at the age of 26, he was editor of a literary journal that published the work of young Syrian writers. Twice he was briefly arrested on vague charges that may have been politically motivated and connected to this journal, which ceased publication after only twelve issues.
Bayrakdar's first book of poems appeared two years later. It was titled You Are Not Alone. The following year he published his second book, a tribute to an Iranian poet who'd been imprisoned during the Shah's reign. A third book followed: A New Dance at the Court of the Heart.
Once a member of the Ba'athist Party, Bayrakdar switched political gears and joined the opposition, the Party for Communist Action. This membership led to his arrest in 1987.
From 1987 to 1993 Bayrakdar was held without being charged with a crime. Finally, in 1993, he was charged with "belonging to an unauthorized political association." The sentence he received was 15 years.
The government has labelled Bayrakdar a terrorist, but provided no proof of contact with terrorists, nor do his writing advocate violence.
While in prison he wrote a fourth collection of poetry entitled A Dove with Wings Outspread, in which he wrote of the despair of being abandoned and forgotten. Indeed, the Digital Freedom Network had called Bayrakdar "one of the world's forgotten prisoners".
While some writers are protected by their celebrity status, others - and there are many - remain obscure and peripheral figures even to the activist groups working on their behalf. Siobhan Dowd of the International PEN Writers in Prison Committee was one of the people to remind the international community of Faraj Bayrakdar's situation as a prisoner of conscience. In 1998 Bayrakdar was awarded the Hellman/Hammett award, and in 1999, the American PEN Freedom-to-Write award.
On November 16, 2000 Faraj Bayrakdar was released from prison. He had served all but fifteen months of the 15-year sentence, but before he went to see his parents he visited the parents of his friends still in prison.
When asked to speak about himself, Bayrakdar is humble and reserved. He would rather speak about literature or speak on behalf of other persecuted writers.
His statement to the press shortly following his release from prison is available here . In 2004 he gave a speech at the Barcelona book fair.
When asked about his experiences in prison, Bayrakdar points out that "the tragedy of the prison is not only reflected in the prisoner's experience, but also in the life outside the jail: the families that are destroyed, the divorces, poverty and misery.
Bayrakbar has described how he was tortured with the "German Chair", how it caused him to lose the use of his arms for months, how being bent backwards on a metal frame that arched his back maximally, forced him "to calibrate each breath on the edge of pain between two half-breaths". A full breath would have killed him.
And yet he did not give in to suicidal despair or hopelessness. Or hate. When asked about the prison guards and the men who tortured him, he says he is able now to forgive the simple soldiers who had no choice but to follow orders, who would whisper kind words in his ear when the officers had left the room.
He tells how, in some ways, his cell was a haven. When the door was shut he was safe from the dangers of the interrogation room. It was like "returning to my mother's womb".
And he describes poetry as a defence. He learned to write without pen or paper, composing small paragraphs and committing them to memory. At times he was too physically and psychologically exhausted to create, but his health would return and he would continue the poem.
While in prison he and his cellmates invented ways to make ink from tea and onion leaves. They used a wood splinter they'd found in the yard as a pen.
Bayrakdar's most recent poetry collection begins:
The freedom within us is larger than the prison that holds us.