The nine Turkish citizens arrested on Tuesday on charges of spying for Iran have appeared before a judge in Erzurum. Of these nine, seven were arrested on charges of illegitimately acquiring information pertaining to state security, and of forming an organization to do so.
Looking at the information provided in this matter by the media, it appears that this is a case of espionage uncovered within the framework of a one-year investigation overseen by the Erzurum Prosecutor’s Office. On Aug. 28, simultaneous operations in Iğdır, Ağrı, Van and Kocaeli netted people alleged to be working for the Iranian intelligence organization. The fact that these suspects were also discovered to have provided certain military and police coordinates through GPS to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has pushed the whole situation beyond espionage into the arena of enemy territory.
The operation to net these agents began last year when passengers on a minibus were caught photographing a gendarmerie command center. The passengers included Iranian agents Shahram Zargham Khoeı and Mohammad Reza Esmaeılpour Ali Malek, as well as Turkish citizen Bilal Tanrıkulu. The agents also had in their possession photographs of locations such as the MİT Iğdır Regional Directorate building, the governor’s residence, local military headquarters and the Iğdır Prison.
The investigation that followed uncovered images on the cameras of the alleged Iranian agents of many Turkish citizens believed to have shared secret information with Iran, and recordings of conversations that took place with PKK members. The prosecutor’s office sent these taped talks to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), asking for translations to be done. The findings, sent by MİT to the court, affirm that in fact these were people working for Iran, and that there were in fact talks between Iranian agents and the PKK. “Secret” documents, included images of security forces located at the borders of Turkey, were then discovered at the homes and workplaces of these suspects, along with weapons.
Within the framework of the investigation, it was also discovered that Iran had sent 100 agents to the border area during Nevruz celebrations, and that these people had begun communicating with local PKK leaders. Furthermore, it was discovered that the agents had worked to gather information aimed at sparking local uprisings, to leak secret documents that would harm Turkey and to damage both Syrian opposition members and the government.
For those who have seen that Turkey’s relations with Iran are of a nature bound to cause problems on a foreign policy level for Ankara, the capture of these Iranian agents has not been surprising. At the same time, there is no doubt that for those who thought -- ignoring historical experiences -- that Tehran and Ankara could form some successful strategic relations this whole chain of events has been very disappointing.
Until recently, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) leadership has given much credit to Iran and put much trust in it. This is not only evident in the vote it cast as a UN Security Council member to veto sanctions against Iran, but also in its signing of the Cooperation Against Terrorism, Organized Crime and Drug Smuggling Accord with Iran. This accord set out a basis for cooperation between Turkey and Iran on a range of fronts, from fighting terror to intelligence sharing. But it is now clear that before the ink was even dry on this accord Iranian intelligence had begun to help the PKK, to the detriment of Turkey. To wit, after the PKK attack in Şemdinli, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç even pointed out the role played by Iran. It is also notable that threatening messages have been delivered to Turkey from Iranian officials --including the head of the Iranian military -- in recent times.
In fact, Iran’s stance against Turkey, as expressed by its support of the PKK, is not something that began with the two countries being at opposing poles in the Syrian crisis. Is it not interesting that Iran’s espionage activities in Turkey began when relations appeared to be good, and top level reciprocal visits were taking place?
If one believes Şamil Tayyar’s argument in his book “Kürt Ergenekonu” (Kurdish Ergenekon), it appears that this kind of relationship between Iran and the PKK is not at all new. The book notes that, “Despite Turkey’s efforts to assist Iran in the nuclear matter -- in the face of opposition from the US and Israel on this question -- Tehran has chosen to favor the PKK; it tried to cover this up through intelligence games.” Tayyar, who touches on Cemil Bayık and Mustafa Karasu’s relations with Iran, also states: “When Turkey embraced a stance against Syria, Iran then put on a show that dealt with both Turkey and the PKK at the same time. The claims that Iran is fighting against the PKK are not true. It has shown unbroken support for this organization since 1982.”
This is the general tableau, painful but true. It would be in the best interests of both these critical regional countries, Turkey and Iran, to get along well with one another, and not to behave like enemies. But, of course, any show of good intentions must be reciprocal, and never naive.