Abouzar Ebrahimi Torkaman: 'In mutual interactions with the Southern Caucasus and Central Asian countries, Iran has to build trust'
Date of publication : March 9, 2016 14:05 pm
Abouzar Ebrahimi Torkaman, Head of Islamic Culture and Relations Organization (ICRO), sat down with The IRAS Institute for an interview about Iran’s cultural diplomacy in Central Asia and Caucasus. The following is a condensed version of the interview.
Doesn’t the growth of extremism in Central Asia indicate the failure of Iranian cultural diplomacy in the past three decades? On the other hand, the Arab world has also heavily invested in the central Asian countries. Is the central Asian’s tendency towards radicalism proof of their success?
After the West noticed that the Islamic world’s hatred towards them had intensified, they devised a scenario to create conflict among Muslims. Imam Khomeini (P.B.U.H.) had emphasized on, and warned about this issue early in the Islamic Revolution. Today these predictions have become true. When the western countries saw that Muslims had become pessimistic towards them, in line with their scenario, they created certain groups to cause rift among Muslim communities. These groups have had come in various names and forms; The Sepah-e-Sahaba, Al Qaeda, Taliban and now Daesh, each of which has a definite lifetime. The International Community claims to have come together in coalition in order to destroy the unrecognized Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but the coalition has not been able to. How could this be accepted? In a move, Daesh publishes its atrocities. It is evident that they are after frightening the international community. Therefore you saying, why we were not able to prevent this group from forming is not accurate. After-all we’re only one country and we have had our share of impact. If this balance that we’ve created didn’t exist, the conditions would have been much worse.
Regardless of Iran’s Cultural Diplomacy efforts in the past, we’re nevertheless faced with this crisis in Caucasus and Central Asia and we must come up with measures for dealing with this crisis, and one of these solutions is the use of cultural diplomacy. How can we utilize cultural diplomacy for elimination of threats?
In my opinion, we must enhance our interactions with official institutions, non-governmental organizations and the people. We must remind them of the threat of ISIS. Fortunately the countries in the region have become alert to this threat and are working towards informing the population. This radicalism is like a sickness. ISIS (Daesh) is like a virus that has infected social and religious circles. Enlightening the public can keep them from gravitating towards this group. Therefore informing must be the top priority in our cultural democracy. In addition, all across the world see Iran as an axis of peacemaking and invite the Islamic Republic to rounds of negotiations, when there are crisis situations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and they do not find peace to be possible without Iran. It shows that Iran’s diplomacy has yielded satisfactory results and has been noted, and can be a pivot for creating peace in the region.
It seems that one of the challenges we will face in the future of this region will be our western as well as our Arab, rivals such as UAE taking a softer approach due to the political and security conditions that they have in the region, and pursuit their policies by investing in the social and cultural sectors. Compared to these players, how is Iran’s status in the region?
Cultural Diplomacy should be invested in. The nations which invest more will definitely see better results, especially considering the fact that these countries are financially in need. Of course, this investment does not always yield result. Turkey, for instance, established many schools in the region, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, especially in Turkmenistan where it established divinity faculties. However, these schools were shut down as soon as Turkmenistan developed economically. Unfortunately however, we do not feel that cultural activities will increase security in Central Asia. The budget that is allotted to Iran’s cultural diplomacy is not proportional to the sort of effectiveness that is expected. It should be noted that the budget allocated to the Islamic Cultural and Relations Organization (ICRO) is much lower than the ones allocated to some of the foreign, non-governmental organizations operating in the region. But I believe that at the same time, the efforts that have been done have had superior result compared to the resources available.
You now mentioned the importance of security and stability of these countries and their impact on Iran’s national security. The question is, how should we proceed in our relations with these countries so that there will be mutual gain?
In mutual interactions with the Southern Caucasus and Central Asian countries, Iran has to build trust. I am not saying that no trust building has been done, but that it must be improved. There’s not much more to be done until more trust has been built. It is with building trust that circumstances for our expansion into the region will be provided. And they will benefit further by having relations with Iran. If you see that they show more willingness towards other countries, it is due to their lesser trust towards us. We must strengthen this trust. Trust is built upon honoring the commitments and agreements that we have signed. Trust is gained step by step and it is lost all at once. When we visit Caucasus and Central Asian countries, despite the reception, deep down they feel uneasy and it is our responsibility to strengthen the trust.
Experts believe that one of our challenges in the past was following Russia, in the region. Now in the proposals about the future, there are still mentions of cooperation with Russia and China, while it seems the conditions are now provided for Iran to become an independent player in the region, more than ever before. What is your opinion on this?
Both approaches are correct. We must be an independent player in certain areas and also make use of regional cooperation in certain others. It depends on the objectives that we follow. We must develop relations with these countries to the point that trust is established. There are no obstacles on our side but some parties are closed to these relations, which stems from their own concerns. Right now, some of the countries in the region are very cautious towards us. Best approach is to act within the cultural agreements, no more, no less!