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Basic Considerations on Iran-Turkey Relations

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hassan Beheshtipour
Expert on Russia and Central Asia Affairs

1. Turkey is currently a big power in the region and has serious friction with Iran over a certain number of issues (such as the situation in Syria or deployment of the US missile defense shield on its soil).

2. The United States is trying to introduce Turkey as a role model for the entire region, especially the Islamic countries. Turkey’s officials and those of other regional countries such as Tunisia’s Rashid al-Ghannushi have clearly said this.

3. The Islamic Republic of Iran, as a regional power, has common interests as well as common grounds for cooperation with Turkey. Both countries are against separatism in their Kurdish regions and oppose establishment of an independent Kurdish state, and they are cooperating for exporting gas to Europe. Both countries are also cooperating with Turkmenistan for transfer of the Central Asia’s energy resources to Europe and are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as well as D-8 group of countries.

4. Election of political officials from Turkey’s Justice and Development Party in 2002 marked a turning point in the foreign policy of the country. Ahmet Davutoglu is the main theorist of Turkey’s foreign policy whose theories are implemented word by word. Therefore, Turkey’s foreign policy has seen fundamental changes compared to past years. Since the election of Justice and Development Party, Turkey’s threat to Iran has greatly diminished.

5. Turkish statesmen of the past secular governments strived to get as much closer to the European Union as possible, while on the other hand, trying to expand relations with Israel which culminated in the conclusion of a military and strategic pact between Ankara and Tel Aviv in 1996. Increasing Turkey’s clout in Central Asia and Caucasus were their next priorities. These were three major items on the list of Turkey’s foreign policy priorities. Davutoglu and the new prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have adopted a policy of “look to the east” while trying at the same time to maintain balanced relations with Europe.

6. Despite all problems that Ankara has had in its relations with Tel Aviv during the past 15 years, it has tried to maintain relations with Israel and has made no changes to its military contract with the Israeli regime. While maintaining relations with Israel, Turkey has also done many things which have upset the Israelis, including supporting Hamas in its 22-day conflict with Israel or indirectly backing the Lebanese Hezbollah in its 33-day war with Tel Aviv.

7. As for the situation in the Middle East, since all Middle Eastern countries had been part of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey considers Middle East’s issues as its own. The Middle East region is for several reasons important to Turkey.

Firstly, political officials in Ankara believe that in view of historical backgrounds in addition to geographical propinquity as well as ethnic and linguistic commonalities, especially in Turkey’s border cities, any development in the Middle Eastern countries may affect Turkey. Therefore, Turkish officials consider the Middle East as a source of potential threat to their country.

Secondly, Turkey is seeking its needed energy resources in the Middle East. Since Turkey is an economically growing country, it should maintain and increase its influence in the Middle East as a major source of energy.

Thirdly, the Middle East is part of the Islamic world and Turkey, since the Ottoman Empire, has been trying to play a pivotal role in the Islamic world. In addition to doing that, Turkey has been paying more attention to problems facing religious minorities living within its borders.

8. A major reason for the change in Turkey’s foreign policy toward the east was its failure to become a member of the European Union. The EU kept setting new conditions for Turkey’s membership. As a result, “look to the east” policy was on the mind of Turkish politicians even before election of Justice and Development Party officials. It was, however, pursued more diligently by Justice and Development Party politicians.

9. Turkey supports Turkmens in Iraq. Turkmens constitute an ethnic minority in Iraq that predominantly lives in the city of Kirkuk. Turkey has also raised territorial disputes over Mosul. Iraq is a scene of political and economic rivalry between Tehran and Ankara, though Ankara lags behind Iran by a wide margin in political terms.

10. Pan-Turkism is the first foreign policy priority of all Turkish states. Turkey, therefore, has made heavy investments in Central Asia and Caucasus. It has held a series of conferences under the general title of “Silk Road” which focus on issues facing Turkish countries and aim to unite those countries. Turkey’s officials have built many schools and even universities in those countries. They are even working on Iranian Turks, both covertly and overtly, and spare no effort to increase their influence on Iran’s Azarbaijan region.

Turkey, in the past, used this issue for its own political gain, but has changed face now and puts the highest emphasis not on politics, but on cultural and economic issues. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu is personally pursuing a project whose goal is to create a union of Turkish-speaking countries. Establishing a common bank, common university, common insurance authority, and a common chamber of commerce for all Turkish-speaking countries are major goals of that project.

11. Ankara considers “Neo-Ottomanism” as the main framework within which its domestic and foreign policies should be analyzed. Neo-Ottomanism focuses on a combination of historical, geographical and cultural attractions of Turkey. Although Neo-Ottomanism is not a strict ideology, it highlights historical, cultural and geographical elements in order to impart a new meaning to geopolitical environment of Turkey. Embedded within this approach are such ideas as Islamism and Turkism as well as East- and West-oriented tendencies. In other words, in the new version of Neo-Ottomanism, three identity-related elements of “Middle Eastern Muslim,” “Eurasian Turk,” and “European citizen” have been interconnected in epistemological view of Turkish people in a logical and meaningful manner. Although none of these identity-related elements have regressed in the new environment of Turkey (under the rule of Justice and Development Party), they are turning into a political model for the region in combination with modern and universal concepts that are based on indigenized arguments.

12. Turkey has not taken Islam as pivot of its foreign policy. At least, the ruling elite belonging to Justice and Development Party does not consider Islam as the main axis of its decisions. While having respect for Islamic values, their foremost priority is Turkey’s national interests. They also use Islam as an important factor to maintain their territorial integrity. That is, “national interests” are the cornerstone of the modern Turkey’s foreign policy. However, despite their predecessors like Tanso Chiller, Ahmet Mesut Yilmaz, and Bulent Ecevit, who totally ignored Islam and did not make room for it in regulating Turkey’s international and regional relations, the present rulers of Turkey use Islam in order to both establish their own position and meet the interests of Turkey.

13. When Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002, per capita income of Turkey’s people was 3,200 dollars and the country was under heavy foreign debt. The current Turkey, however, has a per capita income of 10,700-11,000 dollars in the absence of any kind of energy resources.

Total exports and imports of Turkey and its entire economic exchanges did not exceed 21 billion dollars in 2002, but the country’s exports currently stand at 380 billion dollars. In terms of international economic ranking, Turkey ranked 85th in the world in 2002, while its current ranking is 16. In terms of growth and development, Turkey was the world’s 172nd country, but according to the latest world economic report in March 2011, the country stood on top of the world with an economic growth rate of 11 percent. Its economic growth rate has surpassed even that of China. Therefore, Turkey first managed to solve its economic problems without having any kind of energy and underground resources and then achieved the world’s highest economic growth rate by relying on its industries, tourism and service sector.

14. Turkey has not been able to remove the ban on women’s hijab in schools, universities and governmental departments. This issue is considered an identity crisis for the Turkish women.

15. In terms of human rights standards, Turkey is facing serious problems, especially in relation to Kurds. However, the situation has relatively improved compared to past years.

More By Hassan Beheshtipour:

*Amano’s New Report on Iran's Nuclear Program: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Amano’s_New_Report_on_Iran_s_Nuclear_Program.htm

*Necessity of Playing with China-Russia Ball in Iran's Court: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Necessity_of_Playing_with_China_Russia_Ball_in_Iran_s_Court.htm

*Iran-Russia-China Relations: Challenges & Interests?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran_Russia_China_Relations_Challenges_Interests_.htm

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