Iran and Turkey share a long border, and relations between them have known ups and downs in the decades since the Islamic Revolution. Tension arose between the two countries before the rise to power of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party, both because of Turkey’s membership in NATO and its special relations with the United States – regarded by the Iranian regime as the Great Satan – and due to the special relations between Turkey and Israel and their close military cooperation. The gradual improvement in Iran-Turkey relations that began with Erdogan’s rise to power contributed to expanded trade relations between the two countries, especially once the West tightened its sanctions against Iran because of the nuclear program. In recent years, however, Iran and Turkey have been on opposite sides regarding the civil war in Syria. Iran sees Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule as essential for promoting Iranian policy and therefore positioned itself, together with Hezbollah forces, on the side of the Syrian army. Turkey, on the other hand, initially demanded that Assad conduct a dialogue with the rebels, and after the failure of Turkish efforts at persuasion, unequivocally demanded Assad’s overthrow, and in effect allowed free passage across its border to Syria for jihadist fighters. Turkey also gave weapons to some of those combatants. In March 2015, Erdogan also severely criticized Iranian policy in Yemen and Iraq, and accused Iran of aiming to dominate the region. H.E. Ambassador Rasoul Mousavi, Iran's former ambassador to Tajikistan, Finland and Estonia, advisor to head of Center for International Research and Education, affiliated to Iran's foreign Ministry, and senior fellow at IRAS, told Jam-e-Jam Daily (in Farsi) about Iran-Tukey relations from different aspects including regional issues. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What is your assessment of the current ties between Iran and Turkey?
“The relations between Iran and Turkey must be seen in a historical context. Relations between the two countries have experienced some kind of stability and cooperation over a period of 300 years. In some cases, problems have arisen between the two countries, but the dominant aspect of the neighborhood policy and cooperation has existed based on the mutual understanding of the two countries’ conditions. Therefore, this aspect should be paid attention to in the relations between Iran and Turkey. It should be also noted that disregarding the temporary disagreements, some different perceptions and the rivalry between the two countries, there has always been a mutual understanding between Iran and its western neighbor (the old Ottoman Empire and the new Turkey), and the two countries have always tried to set some limits on their relations, and not to cross the red lines.”
During past months, we witnessed ups and downs in Iran-Turkey relations. Why?
“Looking more deeply at Turkey, it is understood that this country has a plural society, and one statement should not be taken as representing the country, and assumed that this is generally how Turkey thinks on this issue. It should be taken into account that we are not dealing with a unanimous Turkey. If we consider just one issue for judging this country, it will lead us to a misconception. Therefore, we should consider that we are dealing with a multi-voiced Turkey.”
Tukey in recent time has changed her regional policies and in particular declared that resolving the Syrian Crisis without Bashar Al-Assad is not logical. What are the reasons for such a shift in the Syrian policy?
“It cannot be said that Turkey has merely redefined its foreign policy. The events that took place in some countries, including Libya and some other Arab countries, apparently led all countries (including France and many Western countries) to the conclusion that they should revise their policies.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the countries very much in favor of maintaining the status quo in the geopolitics of the region, and believes that the borders should be respected, and remain unchanged, and whatever happens within the country should be based on its will.
“Turkey realized that the collapse of Syria would be at the expense of Turkish territorial integrity and national security. Another point is that Turkey has entered a field in which it practically realized that when some incidents occurred in Turkey at the critical moments, NATO did not support the country, and left it alone in dealing with the possible confrontation with the Russians. Therefore, Turkey came to the conclusion that its specific agreements with the United States would not result in the Turkish territorial integrity. The US supports moves that can challenge Turkey’s territorial integrity.
“With regard to the US approach to Turkey, the country concluded that the problem was not merely the issue of the domestic developments in Syria, but rather Turkey’s territorial integrity and national security. Therefore, Turkey came to the conclusion that it could better provide its territorial integrity and national security by rethinking its strategies. Of course, this was not the case only in Turkey, but such an approach was also taken in Pakistan and other countries, since they concluded that they could better provide their national security by relying on cooperation with their neighbors and regional countries.”
Generally speaking, to what extent Iran could trust on turkey for regional development and the Kurdish issue in particular?
“We must keep this in mind that Iran’s approach to the Kurds is different from that of Turkey. The cooperation between Iran and Turkey aims at strengthening the national security, not directing against a group. The Kurds are part of the history of the region, and considered as the territorial realities. Iran’s approach to the Kurds in Iran and the region is very different from that of other countries. In some of these countries, the rights of the Kurdish people are trampled on. It should be mentioned that in terms of some of its cooperation, it is not like that Iran is willing to offer some definitions against the interests of the people of the region. The Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey are preventing the foreign powers to disturb the current status of borders and national security of countries. For Iran, the Kurds within each country must enjoy the same highest rights as the other people. In addition, I have to point out that trust must be built. Therefore, the publication of materials in the media implying that Iran has no trust in Turkey more likely aims at not forming any cooperation between the two countries. Iran needs to overcome these feelings of distrust, and the statements including ‘Turkey cannot be trusted’ should not serve as a hindrance to the expansion of cooperation based on principled agreements between Iran and Turkey.”
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