YAIAR – Relocation of the Turkish enclave in Syria

Relocation of the Turkish enclave in SyriaIn my previous article I tried to analyze Turkeyand#39s dilemma with the Islamic State (IS) in the context of the seizure by the IS of the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul, northern Iraq (in my article of March 4). In the present article, I will analyze the same dilemma in the context of the relocation of the Turkish enclave in SyriaA Turkish enclave was created in Syria by the Treaty of Ankara signed in 1921 between Turkey and France, which was the colonial power in Syria The enclave was located on the site of Jabar Castle, at the burial place of a certain Suleyman Iah, whose identity is a question of controversy.

According to the most acknowledged theory, he was the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman dynasty. But others say that Osman had the title andldquoBey,andrdquo therefore Suleyman Iah may be a Seljuk commander who had the title andldquoIah.

andrdquoThe human remains of Suleyman Iah and the enclave had to be relocated in 1972 when the Taqba Dam was going to submerge parts of Jabar Castle. The Syrian authorities decided to transform the region into a tourist attraction.

The new location, mutually agreed by the Turkish and Syrian authorities, was the place where the evacuation took place on Feb. 22, 1972 near the village of Karakozak.

Symbolically it was again on the bank of the Euphrates, because Suleyman Iah is said to have been drowned when he was trying to cross the Euphrates. The area of the enclave was about 10,000 square meters — in other words a small plot of 100 x 100 meters.

The Syrian authorities were strict on not letting Turkey extend its authority beyond the wall that delineated the enclave. I remember that when I was serving in 1983 as the deputy chief of mission at the Turkish Embassy in Damascus, we received a nicely worded protest from the Syrian authorities that complained about the attitude of the Turkish military detachment that was in charge of the protection of the enclave.

The soldiers of the detachment had drawn on a stone a star and crescent, the national emblem of Turkey, in the parking plot of the tomb outside the wall of the enclave. I had a hard time explaining to the commander of the detachment why the Syrian authorities were so sensitive over what he called a andquotharmless and#39star and crescentand#39 in the parking plot of and#39ourand#39 tomb.

andrdquoPreparations to evacuate the enclave seem to have started in January of this year, when the IS increased its presence in the neighborhood and harassment was felt by the Turkish military detachment. The Turkish authorities may have thought that, in light of the unfortunate experience of the seizure of the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul by the IS on June 11 of last year, a new misjudgment would be difficult to explain to the Turkish public and they decided to evacuate the enclave, thus avoiding unnecessary exposure of the members of the detachment to risk from the IS.

To embarrass the Turkish authorities, such a risk could have come as well from elements of the Syrian regime in the form of a covert operation pretending that it was perpetrated by one of the innumerable opposition combat units scattered everywhere in Syria The Turkish authorities have to be congratulated for the decision to evacuate the soldiers and for the professional manner of the operation, which was conducted without casualties, except for the accidental death of a sergeant who was acting as the cameraman of the operation.The enclave is now relocated to the village of Ashme, a village divided in two parts by the Turkish-Syrian border, 180 meters inside Syrian territory.

The new location has several aantages: It is very close to Turkey and the village is inhabited by Turkmens and Kurds. The decision to evacuate is not likely to cause any headache for Turkey but the relocation is because the new place was not determined by common accord with the Syrian authorities.

In fact the Syrian authorities were quick to protest the move with a harsh statement sent to the Turkish authorities and to Turkish embassies abroad. They also used every occasion at the United Nations to make strongly worded statements against this move by Turkey.

I will discuss in my next article various implications of the decision to relocate the tomb.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman