It’s a tiny plot of Turkey deep within violence-torn Syria — a sacred mausoleum guarded by Turkish troops.
The memorial to Suleyman Shah, grandfather of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, has remained surrounded by a small contingent of Turkish soldiers even as Turkey helps to lead international condemnation of the Syrian regime, shutting its embassy in Damascus and demanding that President Bashar Assad resign.
Few travellers visited the tomb even before the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on an uprising that began more than a year ago. But the site along the Euphrates River is revered by Turkey, a strongly nationalist country whose rights there stem from a 1921 treaty with France.
The Ottoman empire collapsed in the early 20th century, and foreign powers encroached on its former territories. An article in the 1921 Franco-Turkish agreement lets Turkey keep guards and hoist its flag at the Syrian tomb, described as Turkish property. The arrangement was renewed with an independent Syria.
“Our soldiers are still there. There is no problem at all,” a Turkish military officer said.
Still, sensitivities are extreme at a time when Turkey and its Western and Arab allies are campaigning for the downfall of the Syrian government and urging the Syrian opposition to unify.
While Syria has not interfered with the soldiers, the instability could pose problems to the tradition.