Why Is Suleyman Shah’s Tomb So Important?


22 February 2015 Last updated at 14:36 GMT

The tomb of Suleyman Shah has now been evacuated and destroyed by
the Turkish military

Scores of Turkish troops and vehicles have entered Syria to evacuate
and destroy a mausoleum where a forefather of the Ottoman empire
was buried. The BBC’s Matthew Davis considers why the site was so

The now ruined tomb of Suleyman Shah stands on a football pitch-sized
spit of Turkish land inside Syria, but its historical and political
significance belie this humble geography.

Shah was a Turkic tribal leader who lived from about 1178 until 1236,
when according to an epigraph in his mausoleum he “drowned in the
Euphrates along with two of his men, in search for a home for himself
and his people”.

Official accounts are questioned by some, but the story goes that
Shah’s followers headed north into modern-day Turkey.

It was there that his grandson, Osman I, founded the Ottoman Empire,
which at the height of its powers centuries later controlled swathes
of territory across south-west Europe, the Middle East and North
Africa from its capital in Constantinople (now Istanbul).

The Ottoman empire had disintegrated by the early 20th Century, and
the new state of Turkey emerged – but such was the national importance
of Shah’s burial complex that the site was protected under a 1921
agreement with France, which then occupied the area now located in
Syria’s Aleppo province.

The now-destroyed complex was on a spit of land by the Euphrates river

Since then, Turkey has invoked its right to station troops there and
fly its flag over the site, which was relocated some 80km (50 miles)
to the north when the original area was flooded by the creation of
the reservoir Lake Assad in 1974.

Turkey’s only foreign enclave has retained immense emotional value
for its people, but the chaos engulfing Syria in recent years has
seen it assume a growing political significance.

In August 2012 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – then prime minister –
warned all parties in the Syrian conflict that an action against the
tomb would be considered an attack on Turkish territory “as well an
attack on Nato land”.

And amid reports that the soldiers stationed there had been besieged
for months by Islamic State militants, last year the Turkish parliament
authorised the use of force against the jihadists.

However despite recently joining the US in training some rebels
fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Turkey has resisted playing
a full role in the US-led campaign against Islamic State.

Correspondents say that if the historic Suleyman Shah tomb had come
under attack, the effect on public opinion would have made it harder
for Turkey to avoid a full-scale military campaign against the group.

So the fact that the tomb is now moved and the Turkish soldiers
evacuated is a great relief for the nation and its leaders, local
commentators say.

“We had given the Turkish armed forces a directive to protect our
spiritual values and the safety of our armed forces personnel,”
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said after Saturday’s operation.

Turkish media later showed images of three soldiers raising the flag at
a new site closer to the Turkish border, which is likely to host a new
tomb that authorities hope will provide a final home for Suleyman Shah.

This is the new resting place for the remains of Suleyman Shah


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