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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 18:29 GMT
Saudis hit back over Mecca castle
The al-Ajyad Castle
Turks say the Saudis are destroying Ottoman heritage
Saudi Arabia has rejected Turkish protests over the demolition of a historic Ottoman fortress in the city of Mecca.

No-one has the right to interfere in what comes under the state's authority

Saleh al-Shaikh,
Saudi Islamic affairs minister
Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh al-Shaikh, was quoted by the French news agency AFP as saying that Saudi Arabia was exercising its sovereignty.

He added that no-one had the right to interfere and that a reconstruction of the fort would be included as part of the site redevelopment.

The 220-year-old al-Ajyad fortress was demolished last week to make way for a $533m project to house pilgrims to Mecca.

"This is in the interest of Muslims all over the world," said the minister.

'Sinful behaviour'

The Turkish cultural ministry said the fort's demolition was the latest attack on Turkish heritage in Saudi Arabia, which had in the past destroyed Ottoman houses, cemeteries and a historic railroad.

This is a crime against humanity... and cultural massacre

Turkish Culture Minister Istemihan Talay
Turkish parliament speaker Murat Sokmenoglu, said: "A Muslim country's destruction of another Muslim country's historic heritage on holy soil is a sinful behaviour in breach of the moral values of Islam, religious brotherhood and common sense."

But Riyadh newspaper Okaz criticised what it described as Turkey's abolition of its own heritage and identity as an Islamic state.

And it attacked Turkey as "the last country that has the right to talk about preserving Islamic or human heritage".

Many Arabs see Turkey's strictly secular system, established after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and its pro-Western orientation as a deviation from Islam.

Holy shrines

But the BBC's Roger Hardy says the dispute is straining the normally close ties between two pro-Western Muslim states.

Turkey compared the castle's destruction to the Taleban destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas
Ankara says it is lodging a protest with Unesco - the United Nations organisation responsible for the preservation of cultural relics.

The castle - on a hill overlooking the Grand Mosque - was built in 1780 by the ruling Ottomans to protect the city and its Muslim shrines from invaders.

Ottoman Turks once ruled a vast empire ranging from the Arabian peninsula to the Balkans and north Africa.

The empire finally disintegrated at the beginning of the 20th Century - when modern Turkey was set up as a secular state.

The BBC's Tabitha Morgan
"The Turkish authorities were quick to express their displeasure"
See also:

08 Jan 02 | Europe
Empire of the Ottomans
05 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iraq looks to its rich history
15 Aug 98 | Europe
Lost Byzantine palace uncovered
12 Mar 01 | South Asia
Outcry as Buddhas are destroyed
10 Feb 00 | Middle East
What is the Hajj?
01 Jul 00 | Middle East
Breathing life into old Damascus
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