Turkey-Iran relations plummet after Erdogan’s outburst

Developing Just Leadership

Ahmet Aslan

Safar 08, 1436 2014-12-01

News & Analysis

by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 10, Safar, 1436)

Unable to get out of the hole he has dug for himself in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan has started thrashing about violently. His recent outbursts have deepened tensions with Islamic Iran.

One of Dr. Kalim Siddiqui’s most important contributions to Muslim political thought was his criticism of the existing perception of power especially in the context of international relations. He postulated that the modern nation-state is a product of Western civilization and lacks basic ethical values and norms in dealing with its citizens and other countries. To it, the only acceptable mode of operation is the notion of the “national interest”which is devised to shadow the real foundation upon which the nation state is built: ceaseless effort to gain power. As a result, in the modern world international relations are built upon the same destructive orientation: continuous struggle for amassing power.

One of Dr. Kalim Siddiqui’s most important contributions to Muslim political thought was his criticism of the existing perception of power especially in the context of international relations

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power hungry policies are a stark reminder that the Muslim nation-states are also infected by the same disease. Erdogan started his political career as a humble Islamic activist who seemed to have no agenda other than to serve the people. Yet as a result of his unchecked and unchallenged power grab, he was taken in by its irresistible attraction. After that he only wanted more power, and designed his national and foreign policies to achieve his ambitions. Domestically, his newly built “White Palace” is a symbolic reminder of this. He spent nearly one billion dollars to build the palace that has more than 1,000 rooms!

In terms of international policies, Turkey’s deteriorating relations with Iran are a testimony to how things have gone wrong. Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, Iran has been very supportive of Erdogan and the party. Tehran perceived the AKP as a close ally and provided political and financial support. The feelings were the same in high echelons of the AKP and they did their best to return the favour, especially after they managed to sideline the secular elites and the army from power. Economic and political relations rapidly grew and included Syria and Iraq; as a result many experts considered an emerging economic axis in the Muslim East.

In 2010, relations between Iran and Turkey reached their peak when then Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan together with Brazilian President Lula da Silva visited Iran to work out a deal on Iran’s nuclear issue. The joint initiative was approved, at least initially, by the US but once Iran agreed to it, US President Barack Obama under Zionist pressure backed out. Da Silva was so furious that he released contents of the letter sent by Obama supporting the deal.

The start of the war on Syria, however, turned the tide and relations took a very different turn. After eliminating his internal foes, Erdogan thought there was no reason for him not to grasp the opportunity to increase his power by creating a satellite state in Syria. There was a precedent for this from the Ottoman era and it is no secret that Erdogan has similar ambitions. Without fully calculating the consequences of such a reckless move (under the influence of Qatar and the US), Erdogan extended Turkey’s unconditional support to the rebels. The longer the war on and in Syria dragged on, tension between the countries grew, as Erdogan realized that his dream of a satellite state in Syria was turning into a nightmare with the rise of the takfiri terrorist group, ISIS, and Kurdish separatists.

Erdogan felt frustrated that Iran did not abandon Bashar al-Asad and he gradually turned more belligerent toward Tehran. He stubbornly refused Iran’s offer to settle the foreign-imposed war on Syria, based on the interests of Syrian people. Instead, he demanded that the only acceptable solution for Turkey is the removal of al-Asad as president of Syria.

These tensions were bad enough but they escalated further when Erdogan made foolish remarks against the Rahbar of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei. In October, Erdogan delivered a speech at a university in Istanbul and asked, “What kind of religious leader is this [who] says ‘[Syrian President Bashar al-] Asad is the only one challenging Israel’? Asad didn’t shoot a bullet at Israel. Asad killed 250,000, and you’re still supporting him, sending him money and arms.”

Erdogan was referring to his conversation with Imam Khamenei when he visited Iran in January 2014 as prime minister. In the same visit Erdogan signed a “strategic cooperation treaty” with Iran and remarked that “he felt that Iran is his second home” but obviously he was not happy with the answers he heard from the Rahbar and waited almost a year to make his dissatisfaction known. No sound politician would reveal a private conversation with another head of state and certainly would not make such direct accusations against a country with which he has many shared projects and interests.

But Erdogan is not conducting himself in a normal way. He seems to have been consumed by deep anger as he cannot achieve his ambitions. Iran is well aware of the situation and did not respond to Erdogan officially. However, according to the Al Monitor website, an unnamed Iranian official said, “It will require hours of speaking to remind him of his last visit and what he told the leader. We don’t have the time for this right now, and we know this is only for domestic consumption. He [Erdogan] has to ask himself, who opened the borders? Who gave weapons to these extremists? Who is it that transformed his country into a huge training camp? This is another indication that Ankara isn’t really serious about cooperating to end the crisis in Syria. It’s such a shame that an essential country in the region is still not determined to fight terrorism, is hesitant to help its Kurdish neighbours in any way and at the same time is attacking those who warned of this end from the beginning.”

Yet it is difficult to anticipate the future moves of an erratic ruler like Erdogan who is obsessed with amassing more power by imposing his own vision on the Muslim East regardless of the wishes of the people in the region.

Although the political relations are at an all time low between Tehran and Ankara, there is no disruption in the economic relations. Iran and Turkey need each other economically and they are both aware of this. Aside from Iran’s mature approach to relations, the mutual economic interest of the two countries has glued them together. Therefore, despite Erdogan’s strong emotional outburst, Turkey’s official policy toward Iran has not changed drastically and it is difficult to imagine it will change experience any major shift. Turkey is dependent on Iran’s natural gas and oil and Turkey is an important channel for Iran to circumvent the illegal US-imposed sanctions.

Yet it is difficult to anticipate the future moves of an erratic ruler like Erdogan who is obsessed with amassing more power by imposing his own vision on the Muslim East regardless of the wishes of the people in the region. He has alienated many long-time allies in Turkey and he thinks he can do the same abroad. He is likely to come up against the hard reality of life, sooner rather than later.

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