“I don’t believe the Assad regime would dare to attack Jaber Castle, which would be a psychological attack against Turks who attach so much spiritual value to it. Otherwise, the Turkish public, Turks in Syria and the Turkic world in general would rise up against the Assad regime,” Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of Ankara’s International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), told Today’s Zaman.
The fate of Turkish troops in Jaber Castle, which has great importance in the eyes of Turks, was an issue of concern after tensions increased between Turkey and Syria due to the downing of a Turkish RF-4E Phantom, an unarmed reconnaissance version of the F4 fighter jet, by Syrian forces last month.
According to the Treaty of Ankara, which was signed on Oct. 20, 1921 between France and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, Jaber Castle, which is situated 120 kilometers from the city of Aleppo in Syria, is considered Turkish territory which can be guarded by a contingent of the Turkish Army.
Article Nine of the treaty states that “The tomb of Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of the Sultan Osman, founder of the Ottoman Dynasty (the tomb known under the name of Turk Mezarı), situated at Jaber Kalesi [Castle], shall remain, with its appurtenances, the property of Turkey, who may appoint guardians for it and may hoist the Turkish flag there.”
Erol stated that any attack carried out by the Syrian regime against Jaber Castle would not be left unanswered by Turkey. “According to the Treaty of Ankara, Jaber Castle is considered to be Turkish territory. Therefore, any direct or indirect attack against the castle would be viewed as an attack against Turkey’s sovereign rights. Jaber Castle contains the tomb of Suleiman Shah, who is the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, should there be an attack on this tomb, Turkey would not remain silent. Additionally, with this attempt, Turkey may gain the support of Turkish public opinion regarding a military intervention in Syria,” said Erol, adding that the Syrian regime was probably aware of this situation and would not like to incite Turkish public opinion.
Stating that Jaber Castle was not only of great importance to Turkey but also to the Turkic world, particularly to Turks in Syria, Erol said any attack on Jaber would be considered an attack on the whole Turkic world and that public opinion would be shaped accordingly.
On May 30, 1938, an outpost was built at the castle for the Turkish Army to guard the tomb.
“If Syria attacked either a place in Ankara or Jaber Castle, it would mean the same to Turkey. Even though Turkey only has a symbolic territory in Jaber, it would certainly not allow any Syrian attack,” said Erol.
Veysel Ayhan, a Middle East expert at Abant İzzet Baysal University, told Today’s Zaman that there was no possibility of Assad attacking Jaber Castle. “If we consider Assad’s interview with a Turkish newspaper recently, Assad said that the Syrian crisis was not a crisis between two peoples but between two governments. Therefore, with such an attack, Assad will have the Turkish people against him, a situation which he would not like,” said Ayhan.
Ayhan stated that any provocation by the Assad regime against Jaber Castle would not only be a message to the Turkish government but also to Turks, a large majority of whom are against military intervention in Syria. “Assad would not prefer to have the Turkish people against him. So, he would not want to provoke them by making any attempt to attack Jaber Castle,” said Ayhan.