Fulya Ozerkan, AFP
Last updated: 14 March, 2014

Turkey threatens retaliation if historic Syria tomb attacked

Turkey warned on Friday that it would retaliate “in kind” if a historic memorial that it controls inside war-torn Syria comes under attack.

“Any kind of attack, be it from the regime or radical groups … will face retaliation in kind and Turkey will take any measures to defend its homeland without any hesitation,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

The Tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Ottoman Empire founder Osman, is located in the province of Aleppo, the scene of major clashes between the Syrian government and several rebel groups.

The tomb sits 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the Turkey-Syria border and remains Turkish territory under a 1921 treaty signed between Turkey and France, which was then the colonial power in Syria.

That agreement was renewed after Syria gained independence in 1936.

A Turkish flag flies over the tomb and a small garrison of around 25 troops is permanently stationed there, according to Turkish media reports. It is Turkey’s only overseas territory.

The foreign minister’s comments came after local media reported that Turkey had put its military on alert against any threat from jihadist groups to the tomb.

Davutoglu said the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was trying to take control of the area around the tomb, but said for now there was no direct threat to the Turkish enclave.

Nonetheless, the soldiers stationed at the tomb have been ordered to strike back against any attack, according to the Hurriyet newspaper.

“Turkey has the right to take any kind of measures for its security and stability,” Davutoglu said.

“We hope that the security of our troops and territory there will not be infringed, but we are fully prepared for every possibility.”

Turkey is a staunch opponent of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and hosts more than 750,000 refugees, many of them in camps along the border.

But Ankara is worried about extremist groups fighting in Syria which it says threaten its own security, and it has occasionally closed its border crossings out of security concerns at times of intense clashes.

“The risk has been there since the Syrian crisis first erupted,” an official told AFP on condition of anonymity.