Muammar Faisal Khouli *
It did not come to the minds of Iran’s policymakers that they would leave a Gregorian year and receive another unlike the one they had been accustomed to since the Iranian revolution of February 1979. On December 28 last year, protests broke out in the Iranian city of Mashhad, expressing their discontent over the economic situation of the Iranian state. These protests quickly spread to other Iranian provinces, including the capital Tehran, which increased its momentum. With this momentum, the protesters also expressed their political dissatisfaction with the nature of Iran’s external behavior in its regional environment. Because these protests took place in a country of significant weight in the Middle East, Iran was a regional and international concern. The Turkish state was at the forefront of the regional states that followed developments in Iran.
The Turkish position towards protests was characterized, that poured out its full anger against the Iranian regime, with caution and waiting. Several days after the outbreak of protests in Iran, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued on January 2 a statement that many described it as “cautious and balanced” while others to describe it more favorably in favor of the call to calm things and showed Turkey’s desire to maintain stability in Iran and fear of entering a wave of violence. In its statement, the foreign ministry called for the “wisdom to prevent the escalation of events in Iran and to avoid external interference that would aggravate the situation.” it also expressed concern about reports of deaths and damage to public buildings. The statement stressed on that Turkey pay much attention for social peace and stability in the “friendly and brotherly Iran”. The statement included “We believe in the need to avoid violence and not to be dragged behind provocations, taking into account President Hassan Rouhani’s statements in this regard, in which he recognized the right of the people to peaceful demonstration, but without violating laws and harming public property,” , the foreign ministry expressed its desire to avoid . Speeches and provocative external interventions.
Immediately after the statement, Turkish Foreign Minister Mouloud Javishoglu telephoned his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif to discuss the internal developments in Iran. The Turkish media resorted to this as a reciprocal response to the Iranian Foreign Minister’s communication with senior Turkish officials throughout the night of the coup in Turkey in September 2016, and his assertion to stand against the coup and to the side the Turkish government. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan telephoned his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in the following day, praising the latter’s comments on the exercise of the right to peaceful protest, while ensuring that the law was not violated, saying that it was “appropriate” and assured him that Turkey attaches importance to maintaining stability and social peace in Iran. Turkish officials then spoke about the situation in Iran where the deputy prime minister of Turkish government and spokesman of it Bakr Bouzdag called on the Iranian government and people to act with caution and warned of “the traps that will be placed on them.” He stressed that “Turkey opposes taking over and changing power through foreign interventions, or the use of violence or methods contrary to the Constitution and laws.” He called for confronting incitement and provocations and maintaining the calm, safety and stability of their country. The Turkish foreign minister said that the demonstrations in Iran are supported by two people, American President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He denounced the external interference in Iran’s internal affairs, repeating Rouhani’s words that the United States and Israel have stirred unrest in his country, a statement that Iranian officials used to repeat, whenever there were protests in their country against the practices of the mullahs and its policies. It was notable the position of Turkish press as “Yeni Shafak” newspaper described the protests as a “dangerous escalation”, while the Star newspaper noted what it called “a dirty game in Iran. And “Yeni Akit wrote” “The West is behind the strife in Iran ….If it succeeds there, Turkey will be the target.” The official Turkish approach to this event in its Iranian neighbor is summarized in several headings:
First: Turkey’s interest in the stability of Iran and its social welfare, and its concern about the course of events.
Second: To support the freedom of peaceful demonstration, with the need to avoid violence and provocations.
Thirdly, the rejection of external intervention strongly, considering that what is happening is an internal Iranian matter.
Fourth: Iran’s stability is important to its neighbors, especially Turkey.
Fifth, a positive evaluation of the Rouhani’s statements and the Iranian official deal in general with the event.
Despite the conflict of interests between Turkey and Iran over the political interactions in the region, their relations are governed by the political realism approach and the question arises in this context, what are the motives of Turkish behavior “cautious” in dealing with the movement of protests against the Iranian regime?
First: the Turkish government’s concern about the potential chaos in a neighboring and large country as Iran, and the repercussions on the Turkish interior, especially that Ankara witnessed a similar wave of protests in May 2013 and has not yet completely eliminated the repercussions of the failed coup attempt in July 2016,and the state of emergency is still in place as the parallel organization (the Gulen group) continues to be active in state institutions. And fears of the transfer of infection of the protest to it, especially in light of the escalation of the political polarization, revealed by the results of the vote on the constitutional amendments that transformed the country towards the presidential system, having barely won 51 percent. The circle of disagreement between the secularists and the conservatives also widens in light of the Turkish president’s dominance over the scene. This appeared in the million-mile march of the leader of the Republican People’s Party, which began from Istanbul to Ankara on foot, in rejection of Erdogan’s policies and the establishment of former Interior Minister Meral Aksener to her new party ” Good for Turkey” , declaring the next presidential race to rid the country of what it described as tyranny and the restoration of a kidnapped democracy.
Secondly, the Turkish government attaches great importance to the steadily growing course of cooperation with the Iranian government noting that the Turkey’s attempts – until 2015 – to establish a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia to balance Iran’s expansion in the region have not reached a result . But it was reflected after several developments in the region, the most important Gulf crises and the referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan and rapid developments in Syria. There have been many signs and signals of the contradiction of interests and endeavors between Ankara and Riyadh, which reflected the scene to the Turkish / Iranian rapprochement in exchange for the axis led by Saudi Arabia, although not declared in light of the Turkish keenness not to antagonize Riyadh, and keep the threads of the relationship with it not tight.
Third: The Turkish government, despite its differences with Iran regarding the position of Bashar al-Assad in power and the dominance of elements of the “popular crowd” in Iraq, but it is keen on all economic and trade interests with Tehran, both are linked to a set of relations based on economic exchanges and others with energy resources. The former import oil and gas from the second, while Tehran relies on Ankara to provide a significant part of its consumer needs. If Turkey and Iran jointly raise the slogan of “trade first”, as the volume of trade exchange between them reaching about $ 30 billion, the former also recognizes the importance of the second as a gateway to Asia.
Fourthly, the Turkish government does not want to sacrifice its understandings with Iran, whether it is related to the path of Astana in the Syrian case, and to stand against the establishment of a separatist Kurdish entity in northern Syria or the position on the issue of the independence of Kurdistan. In addition, the Turkish leadership is aware of the danger of igniting the situation in Iran as a multi-ethnic and religious state. No one will be able to control the situation if there is a fire, especially since there are millions of Kurds in Iran along with the Azeri Turks and others. Therefore, the leadership of the ruling Justice and Development Party believes that if the fire is caught in Tehran, the next target Ankara, which is sought by Western powers, after Turkey entered the circle of targeting. Therefore, the Turkish political leadership must remove the dangers from its country and keep it stable away from adventures that may negatively affect Turkey and on the Turks, and their social and living life.
In conclusion, it is the vital interest of the Turkish state that has forced the Turkish government to deal very cautiously with the movement of the Iranian protests. That the political decision-maker in Turkey has absorbed the philosophy of history for what is called in media by the Arab Spring. Its negative outcomes have been reflected to this day – political, security and economic outcomes – on the Turkish state, so Iran’s security, political and economic stability is reflected heavily on Turkey and vice versa. The cautious attitude of Turkey towards the Iranian protest movement stems from its concern for the interests of the Turkish state in rejecting the state of social anxiety in Iran.
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies