Last Sunday, the global media reported that Turkish tanks had rolled into Syria to carry out an operation to evacuate the tomb of Suleyman Shah from the only Turkish territory in the war-torn Syria.
The region where the historical tomb was located — approximately 37 km from the Turkish border — is recognized as a Turkish territory under the Treat of Ankara in 1921, which was later confirmed under the Treaty of Lausanne. Until last year the area remained under the control of the Free Syrian Army but the self-prescribed Islamic State (IS) had recently entered the area thus threatening the Turkish troops guarding the historical site. Of course, the safety of its troops and historical site was of prime importance to Ankara. Secondly, a routine change of guard had also become a problem due to the ongoing unrest.
The operation has set off a frenzy of debate. Should the action be regarded as heroism, or necessity?
The overall manner in which the operation was successfully carried out is indeed heroic but it should not be considered a mere show of strength. It was necessary to ensure the protection of Turkish troops and historical relics. The action was taken in the territory belonging to Turkey due to the escalating unrest in that area. It was not an unnecessary exercise, as some circles wish to portray it. Their criticism of Ankara is unfounded and not very convincing due to the following reasons:
Had the historical site and Turkish soldiers been harmed in the event of an IS attack, these same elements would have thrashed Ankara for its failure to protect its people and interests. Interestingly, these elements are simply criticizing the government without suggesting any alternative that could have been adopted. Thus, making it all the more clear that the operation was the only viable option.
The small patch of Turkish territory inside Syria has become vulnerable. There is no dearth of elements trying to draw Turkey into an armed conflict with the IS. An attack on the tomb would have ended in Turkey getting embroiled in the ongoing Syrian conflict.
The road to the region is in a Kurdish area and under the control of the PYD/YPG. As I have stated here before, the PYD is an extension of the PKK, which has been at war with Turkey for the last 30 years, and is therefore Turkey’s worst enemy in Syria. It would be no surprise that the greatest provocation aimed at forcing Turkey into fighting IS came from the PYD. Ever since Kobane, the PYD has been trying to force Turkey to join in against the IS, and has the backing of almost the entire world.
Evacuation of the tomb was, therefore, the most suitable action instead of being dragged into an unwanted war in Syria to play into the hands of the PYD.
In the wake of the operation, certain quarters are posing one question: “What next?”
One of the threats to Turkey has been lifted, so will Turkey now take an active part in the coalition against IS and allow its air base at Incirlik to be used? No. Turkey will not take part in the war, and IS will not attack Turkey in any way. This question was raised as the Turkish Consulate staff who were taken hostage by IS in Mosul were being freed, but Turkey never supported the coalition in that sense. Indeed, the policy adopted toward IS by the coalition forces has to a large extent failed, and will continue to fail. That fact was admitted by US Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey last October, and the failure of the aerial attacks and that success cannot be achieved with such a strategy was openly expressed.
As I have reiterated many times, violence is the main incitement to war. A policy of education aimed both at IS and at the people of the region is essential for a solution. Washington is now aware of this. A statement from the White House last week announced President Obama’s desire to play the leading role in assembling an international coalition to fight an ideological war against the IS. Reference to this point, on which I have concentrated so much, from the US is welcome, and Turkey will always back that strategy.
Will relations with the PYD/YPG thaw and lead to an agreement? No, they will not. As government officials have frequently and explicitly stated, no permission was obtained from the PYD to allow the road to be used during the evacuation of the tomb of Suleyman Shah, and no development in the region will result in cooperation with the YPG. As presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin explicitly puts it, “The YPG is a terror organization.”
Will relations with the Syrian government change? Of course, there can be a change in policy regarding Syria to find a solution in the country. But the best thing will be to establish an alliance by way of Russia, rather than directly involving Assad. If Turkey is able to act as an intermediary in resolving the Syrian problem, then of course making changes to its Syrian policy will be the right thing to do.
Calling for war may have produced results in many places. However, Turkey is the heir to an empire that lasted 600 years, an experienced and highly rational country. It considers the requirements of Islam and seeks solutions for peace, not war. It will therefore never be a tool in acts of provocation, will never bow its head to incitement and will never take part in a war that leads to the deaths of the innocent. This is the conclusion that the opposition in Turkey and the coalition forces should both draw in the wake of the Suleyman Shah operation.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Arab News & National Herald Tribune & Pakistan Observer & The Frontier Post: