The Süleyman Shah Tomb in Syria is Turkey’s national land and will be protected accordingly, President Abdullah Gül has said, amid reported threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to Turkey to lower its flag on the tomb before March 24.
“Some countries have lands outside their homelands. These are sometimes in different continents or in islands. Our sole piece of land outside our homeland is this. It will be protected the way our homeland is protected,” Gül told reporters before his departure to Netherlands on March 23.
“It’s Turkey’s land and it will have its flag there. I want everybody to know this,” he added.
ISIL, a radical Islamist group and affiliate of the al-Qaeda terrorist group, reportedly threatened Turkey to lower its flag on the tomb if it does not want it to be destroyed.
Turkey has 25 soldiers stationed at the tomb for its protection, which is only 25 kilometers from the border. There have been reports that the Turkish army is preparing for a small scale operation for the protection of the tomb in the event of an attack by ISIL.
Speaking to reporters in Sivas on March 23, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz reiterated that the tomb was “Turkey’s land” and said it would be protected just like any piece of Turkish land.
“Any attack on the Süleyman Shah Tomb will be responded to just as if Şanlıurfa [a province in southeastern Anatolia] was attacked. Turkey is a powerful country and is able to protect its land,” Yılmaz said.
Clashes between ISIL and other opposition groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have intensified in the region, with ISIL recently taking control of a town near the Süleyman Shah tomb in the governorate of Aleppo.
The tomb is for the founder of the Seljuk Empire in Anatolia, who died in 1086. Two Turkish F-16 fighter jets are reportedly on duty to protect the tomb, from either Syrian government forces or ISIL.