Posted 16.08.2012 13:17:48 UTC
Updated 16.08.2012 13:35:44 UTC
Professor Dr. Ramazan Gözen of Yıldırım Bayezıt University
Steadily heightening tensions between Turkey and Iran and initiatives to ease them are what we have been witnessing for the last couple of weeks. Topping the list of developments to have soured the two countries' relations was specifically the threatening statement made by the Iranian chief of the General Staff.
Turkey responded to that statement with a Foreign Ministry note and the counter-statements by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey has warned Iran, explaining the apolitical and unethical nature of that attitude and making it clear it would damage bilateral ties.
That statement alone was not the only reason of soured ties. There were increasing suspicions that Iran lent support to PKK terrorists. The killing by PKK terrorists last week of 6 Turkish soldiers and 2 village guards near the Iranian border increased the level of criticism against Iran. The information that the terrorists carried out the attack sneaking out of Iran has drawn even stronger reaction.
It was amid that confused atmosphere that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Ekber Salih paid an unscheduled visit to Turkey. Not only that dispute between the two countries was taken up but also the Syria crisis was concentrated on at the three-hour meeting the two foreign ministers had in Ankara. The Iranian minister rejected the statement his country's chief of the general staff made and expressed solidarity against terrorism.
Rising tensions are the known classics of Turkey-Iran relations which have popped up off and on since 1979, the year Iran launched its Islamic revolution. Tough sparring has always taken place since 1979 between Iran and the western countries opposed to its ideology. Although not as much as the other countries, Turkey was also wary of the Iranian impact and concerned over the differences in the two countries' ideologies.
However, Turkey has never devolved its concerns to any kind of conflict, crisis or altercation and has sought instead channels of dialogue to assuage its worries. Likewise, Iran has also found its differences with Turkey worrisome but has never severed ties with Ankara. That shows us that Turkey and Iran have experienced since the Islamic revolution a course wavering between suspicion and dialogue.
That also shows that Turkey-Iran relations run a fragile and uneven course, which has generated crises from time to time and led certain domestic and foreign sources to capitalize on the rugged pattern of their relationship and pit them against one another. Such was the attitude of those sources at times that they stoked animosity between the two countries with the hope that the resulting hostility would weaken both of them.
Thanks to the leaderships in Turkey and Iran who acted with reason, neither country has fallen prey to those pitfalls. The leaders of both countries have remained faithful to the unchanging balance of the 400 year old Turkey-Iran border.
Despite the many differences and discords, the two countries have never ignored the fact they also have a lot of common interests. As they need one another and are fully aware that tumult in either of them is bound to affect the other, they have supported each other. The most typical example of that was the Turkey-Iran dialogue during the period of hardships Iran had to put up with because of its nuclear programme. It should be recalled that Turkey has done its best to alleviate Iran's problems and has voted, defying all the risks, in favor of Iran at the UN Security Council in a bid to thwart the imposition of sanctions against it. Turkey has all along defended the view that Iran's nuclear problem should be resolved through peaceful channels and has always tried to prevent an attack against it. The almost tangible economic rapprochement between them has been one of the strongest signs attesting to how well their ties have improved. Iran is one of Turkey's biggest trading partners at the moment with a growing cooperation in many fields from tourism to energy.
The Iranian administrators should see and understand Turkey's good intentions and act accordingly. They should also realize how venomous the statement made by the Iranian Chief of the General Staff was. They should also be mindful of the fact that refraining from assuming an attitude against Turkey serves their own interests too.
However, for the sake of being realistic, it should also be noted that Turkey-Iran relations have also been punctuated with a series of problems in the past two years. The installment of the NATO missile shield in a township of Malatya in eastern Turkey, the Arab spring process and the developments in Syria, the political developments in Iraq and the implication of Iran in the support given to PKK terrorists constitute a serious bone of contention between the two countries. Turkey and Iran are once again caught in a whirlwind of conflict.
It should be admitted that the tension and disagreements experienced now are different from what the two countries have gone through in the past. Today's picture of their relationship is not one of their classic bouts of trouble, not a transient problem borne of the global conjuncture at a critical period of change in the balances of both the Middle East and the rest of the world but a serious issue generated by the structural and deep system crisis in the world , an issue of a period in which strategic decisions are being made globally about how the Middle East and the Islamic fold , having been swept by the wind of the Arab Spring, will develop and in what direction.
What should Turkey and Iran do in this period so that they can emerge from the structural crisis unscathed. Are Salihi's visit to Turkey and Turkey's warnings capable of resolving a problem of this scale? We will wait and see. However, we are of the conviction that palliative measures will fall short on defusing the existing crisis and developing a more comprehensive dialogue as well as mutual caution, attention and understanding will be imperative.