April 5, 2012

The crisis in Syria is driving a wedge between Turkey and Iran

    Thursday, April 05, 2012   No comments

Despite Turkish politicians’ efforts to downplay the diplomatic rift with Iran, more evidence has emerged suggesting otherwise. The main reason is Turkey’s increased role in supporting the groups that want to topple the regime in Syria. Iran considers that to be a red line and they seem to have communicated that to the Turkish prime minister who visited Tehran last week.

Signs of the cooling off of the Turkish-Iranian relations can also be seen in the lukewarm reception Recep Tayyip Erdogan received. Unlike  previous visits, he was greeted at the airport by the Iranian VP instead of the president. His meeting with the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was not conformed until the last minute. When the two finally met, according to Persian media, Khamenei had only one thing to tell the prime minister: Iran will not support the overthrow of Assad.

Nine days before the nuclear talk with the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany), top Iranian officials announced that they are interested in changing the venue of the meeting from Istanbul to Iraq or China. Some of the Iranian officials were explicit about the reason behind the change in venue.

On Wednesday, influential lawmaker Seyed Mohammad Javad Abtahi called on Ahmadinejad's government to choose another place, other than Istanbul, for the upcoming talks with the world power. Abtahi went on to argue that the “Friends of Syria” conference held in Istanbul last week is evidence that Turkey is implementing the West’s policies in the region.

Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezayee, too, called on Tehran's nuclear and foreign policy officials to change the venue of the upcoming talks.

Reacting to these developments, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and coordinator of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group told the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, during a phone conversation late April 3, that Baghdad was out of question.

Even if the meeting eventually takes place in Turkey, the diplomatic rift between the two countries would have happened and Syria was the cause of it. Iran, as expected, supported Assad because he was its only reliable Arab ally. Turkey on the other hand, seems to struggle in its reactions to the Arab Spring. Although it took a muted stand toward the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Turkey first opposed NATO’s involvement in Libya and wanted a political solution, not a military one, to the crisis there. When Qaddafi’s regime fell however, Turkey tried to repair its image by supporting the rebels. Apparently, they did not want to make the same mistake in Syria. As soon as demonstrations started, Turkish leaders gave Assad one ultimatum after another leading to the full break of diplomatic relations. Perhaps they thought that the regime will fall fast, too. That did not happen so far and they have many reasons to worry should Assad’s regime survive.

It seems that Turkey picked the wrong time and the wrong side to make a stand against authoritarianism in the Middle East. By supporting armed rebels against the Syrian regime, The Turkish leaders found themselves in the company of only Saudi Arabia and Qatar--even the U.S. is opposed to arming the opposition. These two countries claim that they are interested in democracy in Syria while denying it to their own peoples. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the contradiction cannot be more pronounced: the Saudi rulers mistreat women and minorities. They even sent the military to suppress a peaceful uprising in Bahrain. In Qatar,  14% of the population deny political and civil rights to the 86%. It is the right decision to support genuine political reform in Syria, but Saudi and Qatari rulers are not the company Turkey wants to keep if they want credibility in the Arab street. 



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Islamic Societies Review Editors

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