Salafist paramilitaries such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)/Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)/Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ‘have destroyed several tombs and mosques‘ in Syria as sites of idolatry. Now, the Tomb of Suleyman Shah is ‘surrounded‘ by ISIL/ISIS; and ‘pro-ISIS’ activists want that tomb, too, to be destroyed. However, that tomb is Turkish territory, guarded by Turkish soldiers. ‘Any kind of attack … will bring retaliation.’ [Update: Turkey planned a false flag attack to excuse an invasion of Syria.]
Newton’s third law of motion
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has made several different statements, or been reported several different ways, but the point is consistent: ‘Any kind of attack’ on the tomb of the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire ‘will bring retaliation. In defending its sovereign territory, Turkey will take all measures necessary without any hesitation.’ ‘Any attack against the tomb either from “the regime, from radical groups of from anybody” would be subjected to retaliation from Turkey’ (paraphrased). ‘Turkey will respond to whoever attacks the shrine, be it the Syrian regime or extremist groups,… including ISIS.’
Turkish defence minister İsmet Yılmaz made the same promise: ‘We will show the same reaction as if we face an attack on our soil.’ The site’s guard has been strengthened, from a dozen soldiers in 2012 to two dozen special forces soldiers by 2014. That number may have ‘recently increased’ yet again (by an unstated number) ‘as a protective measure‘ (because the two dozen are presented as the permanent guard, but it may refer to the increase from 12-15 to 25-30).
Long-standing threat from development
Ironically, considering the threat to Turkey’s cultural heritage sites from its own dam projects, the Tomb of Suleyman Shah has been threatened and disturbed by Syria’s dam projects since 1973, when Turkey relocated it from the Lake Assad reservoir of Tabka/Tabqa dam in Qalat Jabar about 100km north to the Turkmen village of Qarah Qawzāk (Karakozak); in 2001, it was seen to be threatened by the Teshrin/Tishrin dam that had been completed in 1999.
Regardless of where it is, it might not even be the tomb, because ‘official accounts about [the] Shah’s tomb… might have been retrospectively concocted to enrich an imperial, then national identity for Turks‘; but that’s an argument for another day.
Long-standing threat of violence
Already on the 5th of August 2012, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan had warned: ‘We cannot ignore any unfavorable act against that monument, as it would be an attack on our territory, as well as an attack on NATO land.’ So (perhaps metaphorically as well as literally) the warning has lost its appeal to NATO, but it remains. Indeed, already in 2003, at the same time that the womb was restored, ‘the site of the tomb was fortified‘.
Military intervention, paramilitary provocation or electoral strategy?
Is it a Turkish state ‘excuse for intervention‘; or a Syrian paramilitary excuse to trigger an intervention because, ‘[i]f someone really wants to pull Turkey into the problem, they can use these soldiers as a provocation‘); or a Turkish government ‘excuse for sabre-rattling in order to impress people on the eve of local elections’?
Previously, it was judged from Turkey’s quietness that it did ‘not want to publicize the memorial amid Syria’s chaos’. Since then, it has become the nerve centre of the rebel resistance, it has repeatedly issued specific warnings about the tomb, it has been attacked and threatened by blowback from ISIS in Turkey, and it has repeatedly retaliated against ISIS in Syria. So, while the sabre-rattling may also be an electoral strategy, and while some armed groups may also be planning/performing provocations, this activity seems to be an excuse (or, indeed, justification) for further intervention.