Version classiqueVersion mobile

Turkey-Iran Relations after the JDP

 | 
Bayram Sinkaya

The historical background of Turkish-Iranian relations

Texte intégral

1The history of relations between Turkey and Iran can be dated back to the sixteenth century, when two competing imperial systems, the Ottomans and the Safavids, consolidated their rulership over the respective countries. Turkey and Iran were both former imperial centres, and the modern states established in these two countries are considered successors to the Ottoman and the Safavid imperial rule that had dominated most parts of Western Asia for centuries.

  • 1 See, Robert L. Canfield (ed.), Turko-Persia in Historical Perspective, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer (...)

2Many historians, however, have been inclined to attribute the history of Turkish-Iranian relations to earlier centuries, because the two peoples knew each other long before the migration of Turkic tribes into Asia Minor. The early encounters between the two peoples gradually evolved into the rise of a distinctive ‘Turco-Iranian civilisation’ that spread into much of Western Asia through the tenth to thirteenth centuries.1 The Turco-Iranian cultural synthesis gradually faded away with the westward march of the Ottomans, whereas the Safavids engaged in crafting a distinctive sectarian identity in their dominions.

  • 2 Osman G. Özgüdenli, ‘Ottoman-Persian Relations under Sultan Selim and Shah Esmail I’, Encyclopedia (...)

3As the nearby imperial systems, territorial and political conflicts prevailed over the Ottoman-Safavid relations against interval periods of peace. However, the Ottoman-Safavid rivalry and military conflicts were very intensive throughout the sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries, when both imperial systems were committed to expanding their suzerainty. The imperial wars mostly revolved around the fertile territories of Mesopotamia and the Caucasus. Competition for the control of the trade routes passing through the aforementioned regions was also an important aspect of that rivalry. After the Safavids consolidated their authority over Iran at the turn of the sixteenth century and established Twelver Shiism as the ‘official’ creed, sectarian rifts coloured the Ottoman-Safavid rivalry. On the one side, the Safavids tempted to mobilise the Turkmen tribes of Anatolia that remained sympathetic to the religious order, Safawiye, which consisted of militant Shiite dervishes (Qizilbash) headed by Safavid Shah Ismail, against the Ottoman rule. On the other side, the Ottomans positioned themselves as the protectors of the orthodox, Sunni, understanding of Islam against the “Qizilbash heretics”. The Ottomans under Sultan Selim I, fought Shah Ismail in 1514, at the Battle of Chalderan. Before the battle, Sultan Selim obtained religious fatwas from the well-known ulama of the time, in order to sanctify the war against the Qizilbashs, who were regarded as heretics threatening Islam.2

4Actually, the Chalderan battle was the first of a dozen of long-lasting wars between the two empires, in which the hold of most Caucasian and Mesopotamian territories including Tabriz and Baghdad was altered numerous times. The history of territorial and religious conflicts with the Ottomans was inherited by the successors of the Safavid dynasty, Nader Shah, Karim Han Zand and the Qajars. It is noteworthy that Nader Shah attempted to diminish the religious differences between the two countries, which ultimately failed due to Ottoman rejection of his offers. However, as an outcome of the decreasing imperial powers of both the Ottomans and the successive Iranian rulers in the eighteenth century, the competition between the two parties settled down. Consequently, the Ottoman-Iranian fronts remained stable based on the Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin/Zuhab dated 1639. The boundaries specified by that treaty virtually constituted contemporary borders between Iran and Turkey. For this reason, many diplomats of both sides remember that treaty as the foundation of the centuries old friendship between the two countries.

  • 3 Lale Uluç, ‘Onaltıncı Yüzyıl Osmanlı-Safevi Kültürel İlişkileri Çerçevesinde Nakkaşhanenin Önemi,’ (...)

5The history of the conflicts, which either originated for imperial-geopolitical reasons, or from sectarian differences, shaped general perceptions on Ottoman-Safavid relations. However, the Ottoman-Safavid confrontation did not prevent cultural transactions between Ottoman Turkey and Iran. There was mutual affection between the two people over a wide array of art and culture from literature, and music to architecture. Iranian scholars, artists and literary men were welcomed to the Ottoman palace. Additionally, the two imperial administrations were heavily influenced by each other in terms of political and military organisation. Finally, the Ottoman and Safavid diplomatic exchanges, including letters of praise and gifts at times of peace, displayed the close affinity between the two ruling dynasties.3

  • 4 Akın Kiren, ‘Iranians in Istanbul and Their Oppositional Activities against the Qajars,’ 6 February (...)
  • 5 Celal Metin, Emperyalist Çağda Modernleşme: Türk Modernleşmesi ve İran, (Phoenix, 2011).

6Having lost their imperial grandeur due to the military and economic advance of Western colonialist powers and the Russian Tsardom, to the detriment of Iranian and the Ottoman territories, led both countries to embark on the process of modernisation in the nineteenth century. Sectarian differences and the imperial competition that shaped Ottoman-Iranian relations was eclipsed by the common challenges of imperialism, and the modernity that preoccupied decision-makers in both countries. Furthermore, the Ottoman attempts for modernisation were regarded as a model for the Iranian modernisers and paved the ground for improvements in the Ottoman-Iranian relationship. Moreover, Qajar Shahs Naser al-Din and Mozaffar al-Din paid official visits to Istanbul, respectively in 1873 and 1900, as a part of their trips to Europe, where they were warmly received.4 Eventually, this period witnessed intensive intellectual, political and economic exchanges between the two countries. Istanbul then became a centre for Iranian intellectuals and tradesmen. There was also a growing affinity between political dissidents of the two monarchies that supported constitutionalist movements in both countries.5 Even the Ottoman ambassador to Tehran engaged in correspondence between the dissidents and the Shah at the turn of the constitutional revolution in Iran.

  • 6 Gökhan Çetinsaya, ‘From the Tanzimat to the Islamic Revolution: Continuity and Change in Turkish Ir (...)
  • 7 Richard N. Schofield, “Boundaries v. With Turkey,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, IV/4, p. 417-418, http:// (...)

7Ottoman troops were mobilised inside the Iranian territories throughout WWI, but this was not for the sake of territorial expansion, or in pursuit of a sectarian goal. As part of its war strategy of waging jihad to steer Muslim believers against the British and Russian imperialists, the Union and Progress Party leaders in power at that time intended to confront British and Russian advances in Iran, keep its territorial integrity and turn it into an ally. For a while, Ottoman forces, in coordination with Germany, supported the Provisional National Government based in Kermanshah in 1915. However, the government collapsed in the face of Russian advances.6 It was surprising for the Ottomans that the Iranian foreign minister made territorial demands at the Paris Conference of 1919 that convened to arrange post-war settlements, for eastern Anatolia including Diyarbakır and Mosul, which were rejected by the British delegation.7

  • 8 Robert Olson, The Kurdish Question and Turkish-Iranian Relations: From World War I to 1998, (Mazda, (...)
  • 9 ‘Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey Treaty of Non-Aggression, signed at Tehran, 8 July 1937,’ Leagu (...)

8The emergence of Western-oriented nation-states in Turkey and Iran in the 1920s, under the leadership of M. Kemal Atatürk and Reza Shah Pahlavi, facilitated further cooperation between the two countries. The rise of secular and nationalist regimes in both countries narrowed the dominance of sectarian differences between the two. However, the rise of nationalism in both countries unleashed a new challenge in bilateral relations: the question of ethnicities or nationalities. Especially, in parallel to the rise of Pan-Turkism at the turn of the century, although it was curbed by Kemalist Turkey, some Turkish nationalists paid particular attention to the cause of ‘the Iranian Turks,’ which heightened Iran’s security concerns. On the other hand, the Kurdish uprisings across the Turkish-Iranian border that had begun in the 1920s, and Iranian government’s lenience towards the Kurdish militants, discomforted Turkish leaders with relation to Iran.8 Nonetheless, the two countries under the leadership of Atatürk and Reza Shah overcame the challenges and developed a good neighbourly affiliation. Having consolidated their political regimes, Ankara and Tehran demarcated their borders, and signed a friendship agreement. Reza Shah’s visit to Turkey in 1934 displayed the growing friendly relationship between the two countries. First of all, both leaders denounced both the imperialist and sectarian claims of their predecessors. Instead, they were primarily preoccupied with building nations and modern states across their respective territories. Additionally, the British influence in the Middle East, and the Soviet control over the Caucasus, deterred Turkey and Iran from reviving expansionist claims, and left them as ‘status quo powers’ committed to preserving their sovereignty and territorial integrity. A series of tribal revolts on the frontiers of both countries led them, alongside Afghanistan and Iraq, to sign a non-aggression (Sadabad) treaty. Accordingly, the parties agreed to prevent in their respective territories ‘the formation and activities of armed bands, associations or organisations to subvert the established institutions, or disturb the order or security of any part, whether situated on the frontier or elsewhere, of the territory of another Party, or to change the constitutional system of such other Party.’9

  • 10 Behçet Kemal Yeşilbursa, ‘The Formation of RCD: Regional Cooperation for Development,’ Middle Easte (...)
  • 11 Barın Kayaoğlu, ‘The Limits of Turkish-Iranian Cooperation; 1974-80,’ Iranian Studies, vol.47, no.3 (...)
  • 12 Özüm S. Uzun, ‘Yeniden Yapılanan Ortadoğu’da Türkiye-İran Ekonomik İlişkileri,’ BİLGESAM, retrieved (...)
  • 13 Mohammad Hossein Hafezian, ‘Iran-Turkey Economic Ties: Prospects for Improvement,’ Centre for Strat (...)

9Amicable relations between the two countries were furthered after WWII. As an illustration of good-neighbourly relations, an Iran-Turkey Friendship Society was established in Istanbul in late 1952. Turkish President Celal Bayar visited Tehran in September 1955, which was reciprocated by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s visit to Ankara in May 1956. At that time, the perceived Soviet threat and the fear of the spread of communism led both Turkey and Iran to enter security relations with the United States. As the two leading US allies in the Middle East, Turkey and Iran headed the establishment of the Baghdad Pact in 1955, which later turned into CENTO. Additionally, both countries, alongside Pakistan, established the Organisation for Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) in 1964.10 That period was one of the most brilliant for Turkish-Iranian relations. In addition to political and security affiliations, economic and cultural relations between the two countries considerably improved. The two countries abolished visa requirements for travel purposes, signed a trade agreement, and engaged in connecting their railways and highways within the framework of RCD. Ankara and Tehran signed a cultural cooperation agreement in 1959 that came into force in 1966. Accordingly, the Iranian Cultural House was opened in Ankara, and academic exchange programs were launched between the two countries. The Turkish postal agency issued special stamps to celebrate the so-called ‘2500th Anniversary of the Iranian Monarchy’s Foundation’ in 1971 that highlighted the close relationship between Ankara and Tehran. Despite the growing ties between the two countries, Turkey-Iran relations failed to turn into a full-fledged partnership, either because of the different geostrategic priorities of both capitals, or an underlying mistrust between the leaders. Moreover, domestic turmoil in respective countries in the late 1970s prevented them from furthering their ties.11 Ostensible attempts of the parties to develop economic and trade ties between the two countries failed to produce a breakthrough. In addition to the structural characteristics of the economies of Turkey and Iran, substitute import development programs of both parties prevented the development of trade relations, aside from the logistical transitionary role of Turkey to connect Iran and Europe. After the rise of oil prices in the mid-1970s, the volume of trade between Turkey and Iran slightly increased in favour of Iran.12 Even then, the total amount of trade between the two countries remained at negligible levels, i.e. less than fifty million dollars.13

10By the late 1970s, when the Pahlavi monarchy was overthrown by the ‘Islamic’ revolution, it was difficult to discern continuing patterns of accord between Iran and Turkey. In a quick review of five hundred years of bilateral relations between the two nations in order to trace continuity and change in Turkish-Iranian relations, one could find, at best, a complicated relationship. This history of a complicated relationship denies both the myth of continuous confrontation that dates back to the Chalderan battle, and the myth of eternal Turkish-Iranian amity that dates back to the Qasr-e Shirin treaty. That is, the history of bilateral relations between Turkey and Iran revolved around a ‘fine line between friendly competition and fierce

Notes

1 See, Robert L. Canfield (ed.), Turko-Persia in Historical Perspective, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

2 Osman G. Özgüdenli, ‘Ottoman-Persian Relations under Sultan Selim and Shah Esmail I’, Encyclopedia Iranica, 20 July 2006, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ottoman-persian-relations-i-under-sultan-selim-i-and-shah-esmail-i (accessed on 5 February 2019); Ali Sinan Bilgili, ‘Osmanlı Tarih Yazarlarının Algısıyla Türkiye-İran İlişkilerinde Siyasi Karakterin Dini Söylemi: ‘Kızılbaşlık’,’ Hacı Bektaş Veli Araştırma Dergisi, no.27 (2003).

3 Lale Uluç, ‘Onaltıncı Yüzyıl Osmanlı-Safevi Kültürel İlişkileri Çerçevesinde Nakkaşhanenin Önemi,’ Doğu Batı, no.54, p.23-58; Sinem Arcak, ‘Gifts in Motion: Ottoman-Safavid Cultural Exchange, 1501-1618’, Unpublished PhD Dissertation, the University of Minnesota, 2012. See also İlber Ortaylı, ‘Türk Dünyası ve İran Birbirinden Ayrı Düşünülemez’, Milliyet, 28 November 2009; Metin Atmaca, ‘Osmanlı Zihin Dünyasında Bir Doğu Ülkesi: Diyar-ı Acem yahut İran,’ Muhafazakar Düşünce, vol.11, no.43 (2015), p.97-112.

4 Akın Kiren, ‘Iranians in Istanbul and Their Oppositional Activities against the Qajars,’ 6 February 2017, https://www.themaydan.com/2017/02/iranians-istanbul-oppositional-activities-qajars/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

5 Celal Metin, Emperyalist Çağda Modernleşme: Türk Modernleşmesi ve İran, (Phoenix, 2011).

6 Gökhan Çetinsaya, ‘From the Tanzimat to the Islamic Revolution: Continuity and Change in Turkish Iranian Relations,’ Turkish Review of Middle East Studies, no.13, 2002; Touraj Atabaki, ‘Persia/Iran, International Encyclopedia of the First World War,’ 2 May 2016, https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/pdf/1914-1918-Online-persiairan-2016-05-02.pdf , (accessed on 5 February 2019).

7 Richard N. Schofield, “Boundaries v. With Turkey,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, IV/4, p. 417-418, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/boundaries-v (accessed on 5 February 2019).

8 Robert Olson, The Kurdish Question and Turkish-Iranian Relations: From World War I to 1998, (Mazda, 1998).

9 ‘Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey Treaty of Non-Aggression, signed at Tehran, 8 July 1937,’ League of Nations Treaty Series, http://www.worldlii.org/int/other/LNTSer/1938/163.html (accessed on 5 February 2019).

10 Behçet Kemal Yeşilbursa, ‘The Formation of RCD: Regional Cooperation for Development,’ Middle Eastern Studies, vol.45, no.4, 2009.

11 Barın Kayaoğlu, ‘The Limits of Turkish-Iranian Cooperation; 1974-80,’ Iranian Studies, vol.47, no.3 (2014).

12 Özüm S. Uzun, ‘Yeniden Yapılanan Ortadoğu’da Türkiye-İran Ekonomik İlişkileri,’ BİLGESAM, retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/9696331/Yeniden_Yapılanan_Orta_Doğuda_Türkiye-İran_Ekonomik_İlişkileri (accessed on 5 February 2019).

13 Mohammad Hossein Hafezian, ‘Iran-Turkey Economic Ties: Prospects for Improvement,’ Centre for Strategic Research, 1 October 2007, http://www.isrjournals.com/en/asia-a-eurasia/829-iran-turkey-economic-ties-prospects-for-improvement.html (accessed on 5 February 2019).

© Institut français d’études anatoliennes, 2019

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

Lire

Open access

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search