Minister invites Turks to visit planned tomb site in Syria

Minister invites Turks to visit planned tomb site in Syria

Minister invites Turks to visit planned tomb site in Syria

A Kurdish fighter stands guard near the site where Turkey is building a new tomb for Süleyman Şah. Defense Minister Yılmaz said Turks should visit the tomb. REUTERS Photo

Turkey’s defense minister has invited Turks to visit a historical Ottoman tomb that will be moved to a new site in northern Syria, as the government defends an operation to rescue soldiers that were guarding the tomb at an enclave until they were evacuated Feb. 22.

“The new tomb that will be Syrian village of Ashme is within walking distance to our country,” National Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said yesterday, giving a briefing to parliament about the details of the evacuation of the Tomb of Süleyman Şah in northern Syria in an overnight operation.

“We invite those who want to say the Fatiha [a Muslim prayer for the dead] for their ancestors to visit there. They will see that the Turkish flag is waving there,” the minister said.

Turkey evacuated its military personnel protecting the tomb, as well as the artifacts in the mausoleum, in an operation jointly conducted by the country’s intelligence service and the Turkish army, a few days after reports suggested that the tomb had been besieged by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In a parallel operation, Turkish troops seized control of a new area to the north of the Syrian village of Ashme, 180 meters from the Turkish border, where the tomb will be relocated within days.

The symbolic coffins of Süleyman Şah and his two guards was placed in a temporary tomb in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa in a ceremony on Feb. 23 as construction work continues in Ashme.

Addressing lawmakers in parliament, Yılmaz vehemently defended the operation, lashing out at opposition objections dubbing the move as a “loss of the country’s soil.”

“None of the country’s land has been lost. Turkey didn’t give up its sovereignty right,” he said.

Turkish opposition parties harshly reacted to the evacuation of the tomb, accusing the government of abandoning the country’s only territory outside its borders.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davuoğlu also blamed the opposition parties for “arrogance,” arguing that their criticism would go down in history as “a black mark.”

“The Saturday night was an honorary night for us. However, the opposition’s comments about this issue will go down in history as [a black stain],” he said.

Since the beginning, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been there for citizens, soldiers and diplomats abroad and this is one thing the government is “most proud” about, the prime minister said.

“Unfortunately, instead of appreciating this, the opposition has again gone in the direction of using the same language together with some external actors who have been annoyed by Turkey’s rise and the Syrian regime,” he said.

The operation also received a harsh response from the Syrian government, which called the incursion “an act of flagrant aggression” and that it would hold Ankara responsible for its repercussions.

Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister of state for national reconciliation, said Syria would make a “strategic” response to the offensive.

“Turkey’s direct intervention on Syria soil has showed their true face and the hostile objectives of Turkey toward Syria,” Haidar told Iraqi Kurdish online news website Rudaw.

Speaking during a weekly press briefing, Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın dismissed the Syrian government’s reaction, saying Syrian authorities had lost all legitimacy.

He said Turkey moved to avoid potential attacks amid escalating tension in the region over fighting between ISIL militants and Syrian Kurdish fighters.