Before now, Turkey, a member of NATO, has demurred from joining a US coalition of 40 countries seeking to curb ISIS activities in Iraq and Syria. However, with ISIS fighting nearby, and a flood of refugees fleeing Syria and heading for the safety of the Turkish border, the country’s stance has changed, with parliament backing the motion to deploy ground troops.
Suleyman Shah’s tomb
A significant factor in the decision was the security of the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Osman I who founded the Ottoman Empire. Although the marble mausoleum is located in Syria, it’s considered a Turkish enclave after the Treaty of Ankara in 1921, which allowed Turkey to keep the tomb, complete with Turkish flag and guard.
The tomb is so significant to Turks that when ISIS first began to attack the surrounding villages in March, Turkish special forces were deployed in the area.
There have been contrary reports emerge in the past few days about what has actually happened at the tomb. Some reports claim that ISIS soldiers briefly took the guards captive. Others say that the tomb has been surrounded for months.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refuted these claims yesterday, stating that while ISIS had not surrounded the site of the tomb. In the event that the tomb’s security was threatened, “the response of Turkey would be clear and concise," according to news agency Anadolu.
Turkish chief of staff Necdet Ozel backed Erdogan’s sentiments in a statement that spoke directly to the soldiers guarding the tomb.
"Don't forget that 76 million citizens of the Turkish nation are right behind you," Ozel said. "With a single piece of news from you, feel confident within that the Armed Forces will be right beside you.”
The ISIS scourge
For months now ISIS fighters have been spreading into northern and eastern Syria and western and northern Iraq to attempt to establish a new Islamic state. Their brutal actions as they have advanced have been roundly condemned by the UN and countries throughout the world.
Fighting has intensified in recent days, with ISIS poised to surround the Syrian city of Kobani, where citizens have been ordered to flee their homes. Now, only fighters remain in the city.
If they do take the Kurdish city, ISIS will control a significant portion of land stretching from its self-declared capital of Raqqa to the Turkish border, around 100 kilometres away.
Turkey’s role in the conflict
Turkey has thus far been reluctant to fight the militants as they were holding 46 Turkish hostages. These were released last month.
Turkey’s border with Syria is more than 900km long, and while there is no threat to the Turkish way of life, Erdogan is concerned that the borders will become unstable, leading to military casualties and problems for Turkish border towns.
Erdogan also pointed out that the West needed to find a long-term solution to crises in Syria and Iraq, pointing out that airstrikes on IS fighters would provide temporary respite only, and the “immediate removal of the administration in Damascus” should be a priority.
"Turkey isn't a country which would allow itself to be exploited in the pursuit of temporary solutions. Tons of bombs that would be dropped from the air would only delay the threat and the danger," he said.
Erdogan has repeatedly called for a US-sanctioned no-fly zone on the Turkish border inside Syria to ensure the security of its nearby towns and cities.
Parliament is expected to make an announcement late this evening.
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