“I would like to call on the chief of General Staff; do not put Turkey into an adventure, especially at a time when it is under the rule of a shady prime minister,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in a televised interview on Wednesday evening.
Concerns over a possible Turkish military intervention in Syria have emerged following news of clashes between an al-Qaeda splinter group and other Syrian opposition groups in the area. Responding to reports, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey will retaliate in the event of an attack on the tomb of Süleyman Şah, irrespective of where the attack comes from.
“There might be such a provocation. [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan may seek to send the army there [Syria]. Everybody must be very careful. No one has the right or the authority to drag Turkey into the Middle East quagmire,” Kılıçdaroğlu told the private Samanyolu TV station. According to Kılıçdaroğlu, Prime Minister Erdoğan could use a military operation in Syria to divert attention from his troubles at home in the run-up to the March 30 elections.
Erdoğan has been battling corruption allegations targeting him and his inner circle since a wave of detentions on Dec. 17 as part of a major graft probe. He has since dismissed the case as a “coup attempt” against his government by domestic and foreign forces.
Speaking on Thursday, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız refused to rule out an operation in Syria but said if it happens, it would be a limited operation to protect the Süleyman Şah tomb, not a large-scale one.
“Does Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu want us to sit idly by if there is an attack on it [the tomb]?” Yıldız asked in remarks aired on the private A Haber TV station. He said Turkey will not launch any military strike in Syria if there is no attack on the Süleyman Şah tomb but insisted that the government will take action if it comes under attack.
“If he [Kılıçdaroğlu] advises us not to defend our territory, we would not keep such advice. We would certainly defend it. … If Kılıçdaroğlu or someone else tells us to close our eyes on an attack on Turkish territory, we would not heed it,” said Yıldız.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL), which originally emerged as an al-Qaeda affiliate but was later disavowed by the al-Qaeda leadership, has been fighting its former allies in the fight against the Syrian regime since January. Thousands of fighters from both sides have reportedly been killed in the deadly infighting.
ISIL, known for its combat efficiency, brutal tactics and radical ideology, has previously burnt or destroyed Islamic graves and sites, a reflection of its puritanical Salafist ideology, which views the revering of tombs or shrines as “archaic” and “blasphemous.”
Turkey regards the tomb as sovereign Turkish territory under a Franco-Turkish agreement in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. The agreement lets Turkey keep guard and hoist its flag at the tomb, an arrangement accepted by an independent Syria. The site lies along the Euphrates River. About two dozen Turkish special forces soldiers permanently guard the tomb.
“According to international law and the 1921 agreement [between Turkey and France], that territory on which the tomb of Süleyman Şah sits is Turkish territory and it is the only territory outside of our borders. Therefore Turkey has the right to take any form of measures. Any attack, whether it comes from the regime, radical groups or any others, will face retaliation,” Davutoğlu said, adding that Turkey will not hesitate to take any measures to defend its territory.