Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Exceptional Terrorism

Suleyman Shah was a tribal leader and grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire which lasted for six centuries. Travelling through what is now Syria around 1236, Shah, as the legend has it, fell from his horse, drowning in the Euphrates close to the site of his tomb. It is believed that followers of the Shah travelled into modern-day Turkey where Osman I founded the empire in 1299.
 Tomb of Suleyman Shah The shrine, pictured here in 2006, is in an area that has seen heavy fighting

Turkey signed a treaty with France at a time when it ruled Syria in 1921, the Treaty of Ankara which granted Turkey the land -- sitting across the border from Turkey in Syria -- surrounding the tomb. That small area spitting into Syria has been considered part of Turkey ever since, much as an embassy in a foreign country is considered by internationally-recognized convention to represent the territory of that country represented by the embassy.

Turkey's sour relations under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Syria's President Bashar al Assad related to the civil war there, reflects in part Turkey's similar critical view of Kurds whose longtime quest for a homeland of their own that would encompass part of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran has garnered enmity for the Kurds. In the sectarian wars raging within the Middle East, the Syrian Shiite Alawite regime's brutal assault on its Sunni majority (echoed in Iraq) has deeply offended the Sunni Turkish government.

Leading Turkey to give haven and support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in its no-holds-barred-by-humanitarian-concerns battle against Shi'ite Muslims and Christians and other minority ethnic and religious groups, even as a member of NATO. A more polarizing conflict of interests would be harder to find. When, as a NATO member, Turkish troops sat immovable on the border between Turkey and Syria while ISIS was slaughtering Kurds for possession of Kobane, its actions were universally condemned.

Now, however, Turkey saw fit to send 600 Turkish troops backed by tanks and drones into Syria to 'rescue' dozens of Turkish soldiers standing guard over the tomb of Suleyman Shah. Archaeological artefacts memorializing Turkey's Ottoman Empire crucible were worth defending and protecting, but not helpless Syrian Kurdish civilians whose town ISIS was devastating, and whose Kurdish defenders were undermanned and under-weaponized.

Soldiers raise a Turkish flag in the Esme region of Syria where the remains of Suleyman Shah have been relocated.
Soldiers raise a Turkish flag in the Esme region of Syria where the remains of Suleyman Shah have been relocated. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Vacating the Mausoleum of its contents, the Turkish troops exploded the building itself, to prevent its use by jihadists. Suleyman Shah's new resting site sits in the Syrian district of Eshme, about 650 feet from the Turkish border. Once a new Mausoleum has been erected the archaeological remains will be interred there. The danger was that the terrorist jihadi group that Turkey gave haven to would destroy the tomb as they have done other religious sites whose presence offends them.

The final passage in this unsavoury message of Islamist dysfunction is that it was only after Kurdish forces succeeded with the aid of NATO airstrikes in taking Kobani, forcing the ISIS forces' withdrawal, that the Turkish military was enabled to enter Syria; through Kobani no less. Turkish soldiers coordinated their passage through the kindly auspices of Enver Muslim, leader of a Syrian Kurdish group controlling Kobani.

The Kurds are capable of extending such courtesies denied them by the Turks who view the People's Protection Units of the Syrian Kurds representing an extension of Turkey's Kurdistan Workers Party, which it has designated a terrorist organization. A sovereign territorial threat merits the designation of terrorism, but not ISIS whose credentials as a jihadi terrorism fount of brutal atrocities cannot be sufficiently abhored.

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