Libmonster ID: TR-1260

S. A. KHAMDOKHOV

Our sobkor in Turkey

Key words: Turkey, Iran, and the Syrian crisis. PKK

Turkey and Iran are the largest states in the Middle East, which have historically been traditional rivals in the region. However, given the current challenges and threats that have emerged in the 21st century, and the two countries ' interest in full-fledged cooperation in various fields, Turkish-Iranian relations over the past decade could be described as partnership and mutually beneficial. This was largely due to the rise to power of the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by R. T. Erdogan in Turkey in 2002. The strengthening of the religious factor in the foreign policy of the Republic of Turkey has clearly influenced the convergence or convergence of positions of Ankara and Tehran on certain global and regional issues. The turning point that changed the progressive development of Turkish-Iranian relations was the crisis around Syria.

The bloody conflict in Syria, which has lasted since March 2011 and killed tens of thousands of people, has put Ankara and Tehran on opposite sides of the fence. From the very first days of the Syrian crisis, Iran has declared its unconditional support for its long - standing ally in the region, Bashar al-Assad. The Turkish authorities have taken a tough stance against Damascus, calling on the international community to change the "bloody Syrian regime". Ankara began to provide military support to the Syrian rebels, along with refugees from the SAR, whose number has now reached more than 90 thousand people, representatives of the Syrian opposition and the leadership of the so-called "Free Syrian Army"have settled on Turkish territory.

For quite a long time, Turkey and Iran managed to avoid a public diplomatic confrontation over the prospects for resolving the Syrian conflict. However, the statement of the Chief of the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Seyed Hassan Firuzabadi, distributed by local media, changed everything. On August 6, 2012, an Iranian military commander stated that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, supporting the Syrian rebels and foreign mercenaries, including those from Al-Qaeda, bear full responsibility for inciting the civil war in Syria. In his opinion, these countries, acting in the interests of the" Big Satan " (as the United States is called in the Islamic Republic), are undermining the situation in the SAR and in the future may become the next to repeat the fate of Syria.1

Official Ankara's reaction was not long in coming. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that " the statements of some Iranian officials are groundless and their threats against the Republic of Turkey are inappropriate." The statement also noted that "...everyone, inside and outside Syria, knows who is responsible for the carnage that is being carried out daily by the ruling regime. " 2

The words of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are also noteworthy. Commenting on the statements of the Iranian general, he described them as " regrettable and alarming." "While many have turned their backs on Iran, Turkey has always stood by it. Turkey defended Iran's right to acquire (peaceful) nuclear energy, " Erdogan said.3

It should be recalled that Ankara has repeatedly acted as a mediator in resolving the problem of the Iranian nuclear program. Several rounds of negotiations between the " six " (Russia, Great Britain, China, the United States, France and Germany) and Tehran were held in Istanbul. In addition, thanks to active Turkish participation, an agreement was reached in Tehran in 2010 between Turkey, Iran and Brazil, which provided for the exchange of Iranian low-enriched uranium on Turkish territory for highly enriched uranium produced in other countries. But the agreement was not implemented due to the fact that the UN Security Council in June of the same year approved the next package of sanctions against Iran.

On August 7, the day after Firuzabadi's speech, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi arrived in Ankara on an unscheduled visit. According to official reports, he asked his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu to use all the opportunities at Turkey's disposal to release 48 pilgrims from Iran who were detained earlier in Daesh.-

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masked by rebels from the Free Syrian Army. Meanwhile, Turkish experts suggested that the main objectives of the Iranian minister's visit were to disavow the statements of the chief of the Iranian General Staff and try to smooth out the tensions that have arisen in relations between the two countries.

And it seems that Salehi has managed to achieve his goals, as the rhetoric of the Turkish authorities has become less categorical and harsh.: "We expect that officials in both Turkey and Iran will think several times before making any comments. Our position on this issue was conveyed to Mr. Salehi in a frank and friendly manner."4. In turn, the Iranian representative confirmed Tehran's readiness to develop comprehensive relations with Ankara, despite the difference in approaches to solving some regional problems.

The Turkish expert community and local media were not indifferent to the ongoing developments in Turkish-Iranian relations. Many authors in their articles criticized and reproached Tehran for its "ingratitude" to Ankara, which for many years both at the international and regional levels has defended Iran's right to acquire peaceful nuclear technologies. It was also noted that the Islamic Republic does not allow the Turks to expand their presence in the Iranian economy.

Analysts from Turkey also drew attention to the decision of the Iranian authorities for the first time in the history of relations to temporarily cancel the visa-free regime for Turkish tourists during the preparation and holding of the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran at the end of August 2012. The Iranians explained their decision on security grounds, but in Turkey, many regarded this measure as discriminatory and humiliating. "Iran has repeatedly held international summits, but this step shows Iran's rejection of Turkish policy in the Middle East, in particular in the Syrian direction," said Bayram Shinkaya, an expert on Iranian issues and a lecturer at Ankara University. Иылдырыма Бея-зыта5.

In connection with the issue of a noticeable cooling of relations between the two countries, the role of Iran in supporting the Kurdistan Workers ' Party (PKK) was actively discussed in the electronic and print Turkish media. Turkish journalists and experts began to accuse Tehran of secretly supporting the PKK, supplying it with weapons and providing intelligence on the deployment of Turkish army units in the areas bordering Iran and Iraq. The PKK, which seeks the creation of an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, is recognized as a terrorist organization by the UN and the European Union. Ankara has been fighting (actually fighting) for more than 25 years. - editor's note) with Kurdish militants. As a result of the ongoing conflict, at least 40 thousand people were killed.

On August 20, 2012, a bloody terrorist attack took place in the southeastern province of Gaziantep, Turkey (near the border with Syria). The explosion of a car bomb thundered near a bus stop, where a bus pulled up and dropped off passengers. The victims were 10 people, another 70 were injured in various degrees of severity. PKK militants were quick to declare their innocence of the attack.

Just two days later, the British Daily Telegraph, citing representatives of Western intelligence services, reported sensational news. Iran's supreme leader and spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei allegedly ordered the Iranian security services to " strengthen their counteraction to the West and its allies in response to their attempts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad."

The instruction was allegedly a consequence of an extraordinary meeting of the Supreme National Security Council (NSC) held in Tehran, where the report of a special commission on the possible consequences of the collapse of the current regime in Damascus for Iran was discussed. According to the newspaper's sources, the report, in particular, indicated that the national interests of Iran are threatened by the combination of UN sanctions adopted in connection with the Iranian nuclear program and Western support for Syrian opposition groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government.

Representatives of Western intelligence agencies claimed that the document concluded that it was impossible for Iran to maintain a passive position in the face of new threats to national security, including the collapse of the "union of resistance", which unites Tehran, Damascus and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement. Under these circumstances, the Daily Telegraph writes, Tehran should " send a message to the United States, the Zionists (i.e. Israel), the United Kingdom, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria, or indeed anywhere else in the region." "Following the NSC meeting, Ayatollah Khamenei issued a directive to the commander of the Qode (Iranian Special Forces) unit, Qassem Soleimani, to step up attacks against the West and its allies around the world,"the newspaper said, without explaining what was meant.

The publication of the British newspaper can be regarded as another action in the information war of Western countries against Iran. However, in Turkey, the Daily Telegraph's information was taken very carefully, including at the level of the country's leadership. Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bulent Arinc, who commented on the investigation into the terrorist attack in Gaziantep, said that Ankara suspects that the Syrian special services are primarily involved in the tragedy, but added: "We are also studying the possibility of involvement of external forces, including Iran and other countries (in the region) in the attack.") "7.

The Turkish media campaign against Tehran culminated in the arrest of a group of Iranian spies on August 30, 2012. The intelligence network, consisting of nine people, according to the press - Turkish citizens, was exposed in the eastern province of Ygdir (on the border with Iran). Surveillance was carried out for a year; it was established that they conducted video and photo shooting of police buildings and military installations, sobi-

page 50

We collected information about Syrian refugees and members of the Syrian opposition in Turkey.

New details of Iran's intelligence activities began to appear in local periodicals every day. The newspapers reported that since the beginning of 2012, the Iranian security services have sent about 100 agents to the border provinces of Turkey, who established contacts with PKK members and gave them the coordinates of army and police units. In addition, they collected information in order to "compromise Ankara's policy in the region and the actions of the Syrian opposition."

Against this background, another circumstance that characterizes the strained relations between Turkey and Iran is noteworthy. On September 18, 2012, the Secretary of the National Security Council of Iran, and concurrently the chief negotiator for resolving the problem of the Iranian "nuclear dossier", Saeed Jalili, held regular talks with the head of EU diplomacy Catherine Ashton in Istanbul. Before arriving in Istanbul, Jalili visited Ankara to meet with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. But here a "cold reception" awaited him. The motorcade of the Iranian representative drove up to the residence of Erdogan, but, contrary to the established protocol, no one came out to meet him. Moreover, the Iranian delegation had to wait about half an hour for the appearance of the head of the Turkish government. These protocol minutiae were apparently politically motivated.

Summarizing the above facts, it can be noted that at present, Turkish-Iranian relations are not going through the best period. The worsening crisis in the Middle East region and the involvement of various internal and external players, primarily pursuing their own interests, contribute to the growing tension and distrust of each other by the two leading regional Powers.

This is also evidenced by the results of a survey conducted on September 14-19, 2012 by the authoritative Turkish public opinion center Metropolitan (1,275 people from 27 Turkish provinces participated). 60.8% of Turks answered "yes" and 29.7% "no" to the question "Do you consider Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons a threat to Turkey?"; 56.7% of Turkish citizens answered " yes " to the same question in January 2012.8.

Can the contradictions that have arisen between Iran and the Republic of Turkey be considered the beginning of the Cold War, and not a temporary decline in their relations? After all, these states have strong and growing trade and economic ties. Iran, along with Russia and Azerbaijan, is one of the main suppliers of oil and gas to Turkey; Iran is one of the ten largest trading partners of the Republic of Turkey. In 2011, the trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $15 billion, and it is planned to increase it to $20-30 billion in the coming years.

The two countries ' interest in expanding political, trade and economic cooperation is evidenced by the visit of First Deputy President of Iran M. R. Rahimi to Ankara (October 4-5, 2012). He held meetings with Turkish President Ahmet Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which the parties confirmed their course for further bilateral cooperation, including in solving regional problems.

The greatest interest of the world community was aroused by the" unexpected "(as many foreign and Turkish media called it) meeting between Erdogan and Iranian President Ahmadinejad" on the sidelines " of the summit of heads of state and government of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization held in Baku on October 16, 2012. It was held behind closed doors, and the main issue for discussion was the crisis in Syria.

Upon his return to Ankara, the head of the Turkish government reported on the results of negotiations with the President of Iran. In particular, Erdogan announced his initiative to create committees in a trilateral format to resolve the Syrian crisis. One of the formats involves the participation of Turkey, Iran and Egypt, the other involves the participation of Turkey, Russia and Iran, and finally, the third option is Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. According to Erdogan, the results of the work of such tripartite mechanisms can form the basis for the adoption of a compromise solution to the Syrian problem. Many international and local observers later suggested that by putting forward such initiatives, Ankara is still interested in finding common ground with Tehran to jointly solve regional problems and preserve mutually beneficial bilateral relations.

Whether Turkey and Iran manage to maintain the potential they have developed over the past decade will largely depend on the readiness of the parties to engage constructively in resolving, first of all, the crisis situation around Syria.

-----

1 Iran says it will be 'Turkey's turn' if it goes ahead with Syria policies // Today's Zaman, 07.08.2012 - http://www.todays-zaman.com/newsDetailgetNewsById.action?n ewsId-288818

2 Press Release Regarding Declarations made by Iranian Officials, N 196, 7 August, 2012 // сайт МИД Турции - http://www.mfa.gov.tr/no_196_7-august-2012-press-release-regarding-declarations-m ade-by-iranian-officials.en.mfa

3 Prime Minister Erdopan lashes out at Iran // Sabah, 08.08.2012 - http://english.sabah.com.tr/national/2012/08/08/a-harsh-response-from-erdogan

4 Turkey issues 'frank, friendly' warning to Iran // Today's Zaman, 08.08.2012 -http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=288934

5 Turkish-Iranian ties hit rock bottom over Syria rift // Today's Zaman, 08.08.2012 -http://www.todayszaman.com/news-288969-turkish-iranian-ties-hit-rock-bottom-ove r-syria-rift.html

6 Iran's supreme leader orders fresh terror attacks on West // The Daily Telegraph, 22.08.2012 - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9490878/Irans-supreme- leader-orders-fresh-terror-attacks-on-West.html

7 Turkey investigating possible role of Iran, others in Gaziantep bombing: Arinc // Hurriyet Daily News, 23.08.2012 - www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-investigating-possible-role-of-iran-others-in-gazi antep-bombing-arinc.aspx?pageID-238&nID=28418&NewsCatID=338

8 Turkiye Siyasal Durum Arastirmasi -Eylul 2012 // Metropoll Stratejik ve Sosyal Arastirmalar Merkezi - http://www.metropoll.com.tr/report/turkiye-siyasal-durum-arastirmasi-eylul-2012


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