Senior Syrian government officials and diplomats are accusing the Turkish government of cooperating with the Islamic State in the evacuation of the medieval tomb of Suleyman Shah, Turkey’s only sovereign territory not connected to its mainland. The evacuation, said one minister, was an “act of war” against Syria.
The Turkish government launched a military operation this week to evacuate military personnel guarding the tomb, which resides in Syria, and relocate the burial artifacts of Suleyman Shah to northern Syria, further away from the front lines against the Islamic State. Turkey contended, through several public statements by cabinet officials, that ISIS had threatened to capture and destroy the tomb. The operation required Turkey to travel through Syrian sovereign territory; the Turkish government alerted Syria to the operation, but did not request permission to pass through Syria.
Suleyman Shah was the grandfather of Osman I, the first Ottoman Sultan. He is considered the grandfather of the Ottoman Empire and his tomb a priceless treasure of the Turkish people.
The Syrian government has reacted to the incursion into their territory by accusing the Turkish government of cooperating with the Islamic State in order to ensure the safety of its soldiers and artifacts as they moved further from Syria’s more sensitive areas.
“They’ve clearly got very effective and open channels (with IS), there’s not much doubt about that,” a Western diplomat told Reuters, echoing the words of Syrian Tourism Minister Bisher Yazagi, who stated there was “complete coordination” between the Islamic State and Turkey for such an operation to occur successfully, with no skirmishes with the terrorist group whatsoever.
Ali Haidar, minister of state for national reconciliation, vowed that Syria would issue a “strategic” response to Turkey’s actions, which he called an “act of war,” according to Kurdish news outlet Rudaw.
“After the civil war and crises went off in Syria, Turkey waged outright war by opening their borders to rebels and terrorist militants, training them and supplying them with weapons. Turkey has used its soil to launch assault on Syria,” Haidar said, accusing Turkey of cooperating with the Islamic State in an attempt to weaken the Bashar al-Assad government.
Iranian state Press TV reports that Syria has also taken the issue to the United Nations. UN envoy Bashar al-Jaafari accused Turkey– as well as the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan– of “a flagrant violation of the simplest UN principles” in their support of Syrian rebels.
Turkey has participated with the United States in plans to arm “moderate” Syrian rebels against Assad, and has made unequivocal their desire to see the Assad regime toppled. Turkey’s animosity towards Assad has resulted in the Syrian leader directly accusing both Turkey and the United States of supporting the Islamic State.
While there is no confirmation that the United States played any role in the Suleyman Shah tomb operation, Daily Sabah reports that Secretary of State John Kerry was in communication with the Turkish government after the operation.
The Turkish response to incensed rhetoric from Syria has been to nearly completely disregard it. Rather than keep the Suleyman Shah operation out of the public eye, the Turkish tourism ministry is encouraging Turks to visit the tomb’s new location in Syria. Hurriyet Daily News reports that National Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz has stated publicly his wish for more Turks to visit the location.
“The new tomb that will be Syrian village of Ashme is within walking distance to our country… We invite those who want to say the Fatiha [a Muslim prayer for the dead] for their ancestors to visit there. They will see that the Turkish flag is waving there,” he said.