Erdoğan: Attacking tomb of Süleyman Şah means attacking Turkey
Turkish soldiers guard the tomb of Süleyman Şah, which is situated near a town that was seized by ISIL and is reportedly under threat of attack. (Photo: DHA)
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that any attack on the tomb of Süleyman Şah, Turkish territory located within Syria, is tantamount to an attack on Turkey.
Erdoğan, speaking on a news program broadcast by both NTV and Star on Tuesday, said that in the event of any wrongdoing against the tomb, Turkey “will of course do whatever needs to be done.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has threatened Turkey, according to recent press reports, and demanded in a YouTube video that Turkey lower its flag and withdraw within three days its troops protecting the site, which contains the grave of the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The video was uploaded on March 20 but has since been removed by YouTube due to its threatening content.
President Abdullah Gül also said on Sunday that Turkey will protect that land just as it would protect its own borders.
“That is our territory under the guarantee of international agreements. Any attack on this territory means an attack on Turkey,” stressed Erdoğan.
The conflict in Syria has on occasion spilled over into Turkey. Following Syria's shooting down of a Turkish jet in 2012, the military's rules of engagement changed, and Erdoğan said any Syrian element approaching the border would be deemed a threat and treated as a military target. Turkish warplanes shot down a Syrian helicopter last September when it crossed into Turkish airspace. Most recently, Turkish warplanes shot down a Syrian fighter jet on Sunday.
Another related development involved trucks heading to Syria that were intercepted in the southern province of Adana. The prime minister said the trucks belonged to the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and were carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in the Bayır-Bucak area of Syria, but a search of the vehicles produced weapons. Opposition parties strongly criticized the government over the development, prompting Erdoğan to accuse the opposition parties, and in particular the Republican People's Party (CHP), of taking a position “against Turkey, instead of being an advocate of Turkey.”
Turkish gendarmes found also found ammunition in addition to the weapons on the seven trucks they stopped in Adana province in January after receiving a tip that the trucks were transporting arms to Syria, according to media reports.
The trucks, which officials said belonged to MİT, were searched by security officials. A local prosecutor recorded the contents of the truck, but pressure from government officials prevented him from filing criminal charges, according to reports. In addition, Aziz Takıcı, a prosecutor who ordered the search of the trucks, was stripped of his powers to conduct investigations granted under Turkey's counterterrorism laws in late January.
Following the incident Erdoğan said Turkey will continue to give humanitarian aid to the Syrian people in spite of some “treacherous” attempts to sabotage the government's efforts.
Syrian warplane shot down
Erdoğan also made mention of a Syrian warplane shot down on Sunday by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), emphasizing that the rules of engagement state any violation of Turkish airspace will be considered a hostile act and that Turkey will react as necessary.
He said two Syrian MiG-23 warplanes had flown about one-and-a-half kilometers into Turkish airspace on Sunday and that the TSK had informed him. Turkish warplanes then shot down one of the Syrian warplanes. Erdoğan said the Syrian warplanes were going to bomb Kasab, a town on the border with a population of 50-60,000.
“The opposition in Turkey is unfortunately exploiting this issue for political gain. This is ugly. Are we supposed to say ‘Welcome' to those violating our airspace just because we are about to go to local elections?” Erdoğan asked, adding that the Bashar al-Assad regime has killed 160,000 people so far and called Assad a “murderer.”
While the Syrian regime continues to shell Turkish territory, Erdoğan claimed, the opposition in Turkey, mostly the CHP, praises and defends this regime.
“This is a national issue. How can you turn this into a political one? Whose side are you on? What you need to do is to side with the government and the Turkish Armed Forces. The TSK has done what needs to be done there, and if anything like that happens again, the same thing will happen,” Erdoğan said.
The prime minister also added that the number of people coming from Syria to Turkey has reached 760,000 and that Turkey has spent over $3 billion to take care of these people, some of whom were injured in the civil war in Syria.
“Syria is Turkey's neighbor,” Erdoğan said, adding that the relationship between Turkey and Syria was very good up until the street protests in Tunisia in 2010, the start of the Arab Spring. Worried that the protests would spread to Syria, Erdoğan said he had warned Assad and offered Turkey's support.
“We certainly did not expect to see today's Bashar al-Assad. His ways were different then and we have telephone diplomacy taking place. Then the killings started and Assad did not listen to us,” Erdoğan said.
The unrest in Syria began in March 2011, with popular street protests against the Assad regime growing quickly nationwide. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, more took to the streets and the once peaceful uprising evolved into a brutal and increasingly sectarian armed conflict.