Syrian landowner of new tomb site ‘sidelined’ by Ankara
Bozan Osman. DHA PhotoTurkey’s army continued preparations to move a historical Ottoman tomb closer to the Turkish border in northern Syria on Feb. 24, but the owner of the plot has reportedly said Ankara did not ask for permission to use the land.
Turkey had evacuated its military personnel protecting the Tomb of Süleyman Şah near the village of Karakozak in northern Syria early on Feb. 21. As part of the military operation, a Turkish flag was raised further north, near the Syrian village of Ashme, just 180 meters from the Turkish border. The artifacts in the mausoleum, which were brought to Turkey during the operation, will soon be placed in a new shrine that is being built on the plot near Ashme.
However, Bozan Osman, the Syrian owner of the plot, has complained that nobody informed him of the plans, or asked for his permission, according to Turkish daily Habertürk.
Osman, who fled his war-torn native Syria with his eight children, two brothers and mother, settled in the town of Birecik on the Turkish side of the border. He said a gendermarie commander asked the village administrator, or muhtar, about his plot of land last month, but he was not notified about the planned operation.
“I don’t see it as an occupation by Turkey. Turkey builds a shrine and a military post there because it has to,” Osman said, while expressing his hope that he will not be victimized, “as the land is worth millions.”
“I had six hectares of land. Now soldiers have been positioned across all of it. I have to buy a new plot of land, but I need money for it. I want to live on the land where I was born,” he added, vowing to apply to international law if Turkey does not pay what he is owed.
A prefabricated structure in the Seljuk Turkish style is currently being built on the plot as the future site of the Süleyman Şah artifacts, which are currently being held in a military barracks on the Turkish side of the border. Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz invited Turks to visit the new site on Feb. 23, stressing that “it is within walking distance of our country.”
Does international law justify the operation?
Whether Turkey’s military operation was in accordance with international law is an open question. Legal expert Dr. Mehmet Karlı told daily Radikal on Feb. 23 that Turkey “could have ended up being on the wrong side [of international law]” due to the operation, although it was initially on the right side.
Recalling the rising threat posed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants around the former site of the tomb, Karlı said the operation could have been explained as an act of “self-defense.”
“However, Turkey’s actions and the subsequent official statements have put it in a more difficult position,” he added, particularly pointing to the “wrong decision” to relocate the site inside Syria without the approval of Damascus.
“No state in the world has the right to unilaterally change an international treaty or the borders that are defined by it,” Karlı said.
The Süleyman Şah tomb was declared Turkish territory in a treaty signed with France in 1921, when France was the colonial power in Syria. Most recently in the 1970s, the Damascus government recognized Turkish sovereignty over the plot, while changing its place inside Syria due to the construction of a dam.
Turkish officials have recently claimed the land around the tomb as Ankara’s territory, “wherever in Syria it is.”