Despite the fact that many observers have warned Turkey about Iran’s hypocritical attitude, the Turkish government has always approached Iran as an honest neighbor. When Iranian generals were openly threatening Turkey, and telling the media that if Iran faced military action its first target would be the NATO radar in Turkey, Turkish diplomats did not respond. When asked, Ahmet Davutoğlu said, “Turkey would not take Iranian generals seriously. Rather, we look at what the Iranian Foreign Ministry is saying.”
At that time, no one understood Turkey’s bizarre attitude toward Iran. Even as Turkish diplomats were rightly answering every criticism coming from Israeli generals and politicians, the nation was silent regarding the threats of Iranian generals against it. Their response to this observation was that, well, Turkey would listen to what Iranian diplomats were saying, not what Iranian generals were saying.
However, a few days ago Iran’s chief of staff issued a statement implying that Syria’s instability would bleed into Turkey, rendering it destabilized. This time, Turkey finally responded, and its response was harsh.
Now the question is: What has changed that Turkey has finally responded to an Iranian official?
Firstly, Iran has openly declared its support for the Bashar al-Assad regime. Providing logistical support to the Syrian regime to extend the regime’s lifespan is a direct challenge to Turkey’s foreign policy preferences in the region on two fronts. On the one hand, it helps the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) strengthen its grip on power inside Syria, so that now a pro-PKK party is controlling major cities. On the other, it directly affects the local economies of Turkey’s border cities. Thus, Turkey wants to remove the Syrian regime as soon as possible, while Iran has declared its determination to maintain the regime.
Secondly, despite the fact that over the past year it has been well documented that Iran has been providing some form of support to PKK militants, Turkey has resisted making the issue public. Yet the recent PKK attacks in Hakkari once again prove that the PKK has camps inside Iran and receives support from that nation. More importantly, Turkish authorities no longer hide the fact that Turkey is aware of Iran’s support to the PKK. Thus, Turkey finds Iran’s attitude to the destabilization of Turkey’s Kurdish-populated territory unacceptable and has started to express its dissatisfaction in response to Iranian officials’ criticism of Turkey.
Thirdly, and most importantly, it is now a clear fact that Foreign Minister Davutoğlu’s naïve and romantic dream of establishing an island of peace in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus with Turkey at its center has failed.
Related to this, Davutoğlu’s approach to anticipating regional developments and taking preventive measures has failed so miserably that Turkey did not even anticipate the PKK’s establishment of a state inside Syria. Now no one can conceal the fact that while Davutoğlu was giving lectures on anticipating the future of the region, the PKK was forming a state within its neighbor, and Turkey failed to recognize it.
Furthermore, forget about building peace in this region, as it is clear that Turkey cannot even deal with Syria alone. Therefore, the recent crisis faced by Turkey has taught it a lesson: that dreaming the dream is not enough to build peace in this region. Iran is a major obstacle to Turkey’s stability and the enactment of its foreign policy preferences in the region.
For these reasons, after 10 years of good relations, Turkey has finally come out and criticized Iran’s unacceptable attitude. But it is too early to judge whether Turkey’s relations with Iran will continue to worsen.
Given the fact that the Iranian regime has penetrated the Turkish government politically, economically and ideologically, it is hard to imagine that Turkey will maintain this attitude for long. Those who feel connected to Iran will work behind the scenes to soften Turkey’s attitude, and I expect that, despite Iran’s attitudes, Turkish-Iranian relations will soon return to normal.