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Turkey-Iran Relations after the JDP

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Bayram Sinkaya

Turkey-Iran Relations since the JDP’s came to Power

Texte intégral

  • 32 For Turkish Middle East policy under the JDP see Şaban Kardaş, ‘Turkey Redrawing the Middle East Ma (...)

1The Justice and Development Party, an offspring of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) that was led by Necmettin Erbakan, a pioneering figure of political Islam in Turkey, won the majority of seats in the Turkish parliament in the elections held in November 2002 and was entitled to form the new government. The JDP’s realisation of power in Turkey in November 2002 is widely regarded as a turning point both for Turkish politics and foreign policy. It is still controversial as to whether it started a new era in Turkish foreign policy, or it maintained wider changes in foreign policy strategy before it came to power. In any case, the JDP’s rise to power coincided with major changes in Turkish foreign policy, which was associated with ‘de-securitisation’ and the promotion of economy and trade.32

2The Islamist orientation of the JDP leaders boosted foreign policy change especially towards the Islamic world. Traditional Turkish policy which was solidly anchored to the West and the preservation of status quo, arguably barred it from developing close relations with the Islamic world in general, and the Middle Eastern countries in particular. In the name of multi-dimensional and pro-active foreign policy, the JDP government spared no effort in improving relations with its Middle Eastern neighbours. The Turkish diplomatic and economic engagement with the Middle East reached a point within a decade that triggered a major debate among the scholars and practitioners about a ‘shift of axis’ in Turkish foreign policy. In this respect, the Turkish government’s opposition to a new round of UN sanctions targeting Iran in June 2010, in its capacity as the temporary seat holder in the UN Security Council against its traditional Western allies, was regarded as evidence of the changing Turkish foreign policy.

  • 33 Mustafa Aydın and Damla Aras, ‘Political Conditionality of Economic Relations between Paternalist S (...)

3Since then, a vast amount of literature has emerged to explain and to provide an understanding of the change in Turkish foreign policy in general, and its relations with Iran in particular. The bulk of the literature draws attention to the domestic transformation of Turkey, underlining the declining influence of the security oriented Kemalist elites in power, de-securitisation of political Islam and the Kurdish issue in national politics, the orientation of new Islamist elite that seized power, and the growing influence of the so-called Anatolian tigers, a wide number of Turkish entrepreneurs spread across various cities in Anatolia, on politics.33 A considerable part of the burgeoning literature highlights the geopolitical changes around Turkey that has both forced it to review its conventional policies, and provided new opportunities in its neighbourhood. Accordingly, new regional geopolitics combined with domestic transformation inside the country has led to the rise of close relations between Turkey and Iran.

  • 34 M. Ebrahimi, K. Yusoff, M.M.S. Jalali, ‘Economic, Political, and Strategic issues in Iran-Turkey Re (...)
  • 35 F. Stephen Larrabee and Alireza Nader, Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East, Rand Co (...)
  • 36 Leader Meets with Turkish President,’ Khamenei.ir, 14 February 2011, http://english.khamenei.ir/ne (...)

4While most of the literature focuses on the transformation of Turkey under the JDP government in order to explain its new Middle East policies and in particular Turkey-Iran relations, Iranian rationale to improve its relations with Turkey is widely underestimated. Iran was keen on keeping its relationship with Turkey on a satisfactory course for several reasons. The first of them was the growing Iranian security concerns especially after the American occupation of Iraq in 2003. The United States’ animosity towards Iran was not new, but the American threat became immediate for Tehran after it deployed large numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to its military presence in the Persian Gulf and adjoining countries. The increasing pressure over Iran compelled it to stabilise its relations with Turkey. Although Turkish membership in NATO has been viewed as a peril for Iran, in order to counterweigh increasing American pressure, the Iranian government has paid special attention to developing good relations with Turkey, and at least to ensure its neutrality in case of a showdown between Iran and the United States.34 In this regard, Iran welcomed the worsening of Turkey’s close ties with the United States and Israel under the JDP government. For instance, in his meeting with Erdoğan in October 2009, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Turkey’s position on Palestine, which he claimed advanced Turkey’s place in the Islamic world, soon after the famous Davos walkout of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his admonition to Israeli President Shimon Peres.35 Likewise, in his meeting with the then President Gül in February 2011, Khamenei praised Turkey’s ‘independence against the West, keeping a distance from the Zionist regime and supporting the people of Palestineʼ that brought it ‘closer to the Islamic Ummah.’36

  • 37 Hossein Yarmohammadian, A. Omidi, S. Ebrahimi, ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertaint (...)

5Additionally, Iranian leaders have viewed the JDP’s coming to power as an instance of the rise of Islamism in Turkey, and thus wished to stabilise its relations with Ankara. Successive Iranian governments have adopted a seductive approach towards Turkey to reduce bilateral tensions, and increase cooperation in various fields.37 Finally, Iran had an economic rationale to keep its relations with Turkey on a positive path, because the latter has provided a favourable market for its energy exports, and a potential supply centre for some basic goods.

6Iran’s relations with Turkey have continued to improve in various sectors from security to tourism in the decade and half since the JDP came to power. However, Iranian-Turkish collaboration has not been seamless over this time. Considering the diplomatic engagements between Ankara and Tehran, it would be wise to divide the Turkish-Iranian relationship into three distinct periods. In the period of rapprochement that began in 2002 and lasted till 2011, they expanded bilateral diplomatic, security, and economic relations. Additionally, they had ostensibly similar views with respect to regional developments, yet they deliberately avoided introducing a regional cooperation perspective to their bilateral relations. The second period, the period of estrangement that covers the years between 2011 and 2016, was marked by divergence and competition between the two parties especially on regional matters subsequent to the Arab Spring of 2011, which coincided with a lapse in their security cooperation. However, Ankara and Tehran have maintained economic and diplomatic relations at a reasonable level which culminated in the institutionalisation of bilateral relations. The third period may be called the era of development of amicable relations that began in 2016. The JDP government appreciated the Iranian support for it against the futile coup attempt in July 2016, and revised its foreign policy orientation. Then, in addition to preserving their accord on the economy, they reconciled their differences on regional issues and engaged in coordinating their regional policies and security strategies. The fluctuations in Turkish-Iranian relations during this time could be traced through a review of diplomatic and economic relations as well as through the implications of regional context on their relationship in the subsequent sections.

Diplomatic and Security Relations

  • 38 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals…, pp.29, 36.

7In the early years after coming to power, JDP leaders were cautious towards Iran. They were careful not to antagonise the establishment in Turkey by repeating the same ‘mistakes’ of the former prime minister Erbakan, who was accused of pursuing an Islamist foreign policy. They were also particularly interested in developing a bond with the EU, and avoided irking the West by holding back on developing better relations with Iran. Additionally, there was heavy pressure by the United States on Ankara for forcing it to cooperate with the US administration against Iran and Syria. Hence, the JDP leaders were careful in justifying their engagements with Iran by either suggesting economic considerations, or arguing for integrating Iran into the regional politics so that it would turn into a responsible actor in Middle Eastern politics. In due time, the JDP’s self-confidence was consolidated through its successive election victories and its gains against the ‘military tutelage’ in the country. Additionally, the JDP government was gradually frustrated with the American policies towards the Middle East, and the EU’s inertia in processing Ankara’s accession negotiations. Thus, the JDP government was directed and emboldened to improve its relations with Iran.38

Rapprochement

8The first high level meeting between Iranian and Turkish officials after the JDP’s ascension to power was held in January 2003, when Prime Minister Abdullah Gül visited Tehran. The top issue on his agenda was the pending American military intervention against Iraq. Gül was eager to prevent a war with Iraq through mobilising its neighbours, because of the potential adverse effects on the region. Iran shared similar concerns with Turkey regarding the implications of the American intervention. Those concerns were shared not only between Ankara and Tehran, but also by a number of other countries in the region and culminated in a series of meetings with Iraq’s neighbours.

  • 39 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals …, p.32, Tolga Demiryol, ‘The Limits to Cooperation bet (...)

9Following the American occupation of Iraq, Kurdish militancy revived both in Iran and Turkey as illustrated by the upsurge of violence perpetrated by the PKK. Meanwhile, the PKK formed a new organisation named the PJAK (Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan) that was committed to pursue autonomy for Iranian Kurds. Utilising the same bases as the PKK around the Qandil Mountains in the north of Iraq, the PJAK launched a ‘guerrilla war’ against Iran. Tehran was also concerned with the American military presence in Iraq which might turn into a centre for its hostile activities in order to force a regime change in Iran, and a prospective Kurdish state in that country. Hence, the containment of Kurdish separatism and the PKK/PJAK activities became a pressing security concern for Iran. This context paved the ground for growing security cooperation between Ankara and Tehran.39

10Recep T. Erdoğan, the chairman of the JDP, who became prime minister in March 2003, paid his first official visit to Tehran in July 2004, accompanied by a great number of businessmen. At that time, the parties agreed to strengthen their economic relations and improve security cooperation to fight against terrorism, and reiterated their commitment to the preservation of Iraq’s territorial integrity. However, Iran’s closure of a Turkish company’s (TAV) contract to operate Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran, and the denial of Turkcell’s (another Turkish investment in Iran) contract to operate a cellular phone network in Iran shadowed Ankara-Tehran relations. The dismissal of large-scale Turkish investments because of factional bickering inside Iran led the then President Mohammad Khatami to cancel his projected visit to Turkey.40

11On the first official visit that Erdoğan paid to Tehran in July 2004, Iran and Turkey signed a security protocol and stressed their commitment to regional security and the fight against the PKK. Iran recognised KADEK and Kongra-Gel as new factions of the PKK and ʻterrorist networksʼ. Preceding this, the PKK had changed its name several times in order to overcome international pressures. Based on this new understanding, security officials on the ground who met regularly, started to share information on the PKK/PJAK activities. Occasionally they staged coordinated offensives against the PKK. Additionally, Iranian officials handed over some details of PKK members to the Turkish authorities.41 Ahead of the meeting of the High Security Commission in April 2008 in Ankara, the Iranian deputy interior minister in charge of security, Abbas Mohtaj, underlined his governments’ view of the PKK and PJAK as ʻa single terrorist organisation under two different names.ʼ42 Although senior generals of the Turkish army used to avoid giving a picture of military cooperation between the two countries, General Ilker Başbuğ, the then Commander in Chief of Turkish Land Forces acknowledged in June 2008 that Iran and Turkey were ‘sharing intelligence and planning coordinated attacks in the fight against separatists.’43

12Security cooperation between Ankara and Tehran, however, was not perfect. For instance, subsequent to the bloody PKK attacks in October 2007, Ali Babacan, the then Turkish foreign minister visited Tehran as part of the Turkish diplomatic strategy to secure international support for a prospective Turkish military raid inside Iraq in order to fight the PKK. In his meeting with Babacan, Manouchehr Mottaki, his Iranian counterpart, claimed that the United States and Israel were behind the rise of terrorist activities, but avoided a clear backing for the projected Turkish military operation against the PKK. Instead, he argued that there were alternatives other than military operations for the solution of the issue.44

  • 45 ‘Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the Government of t (...)

13Nonetheless, Turkey and Iran signed an agreement for cooperation in combating drug smuggling, organised crime, and terrorism in August 2008. The agreement, which has provided an institutional framework for Turkish-Iranian security cooperation, includes a definition of terrorist activities, the exchange of information and intelligence on groups and individuals involved in transnational organised crime, equipment and the details of terrorist groups identified by the parties. The parties assigned the High Security Commission to oversee security relations and update the list of commonly designated terrorist organisations. The agreement also included ‘joint intelligence activities for the purpose of the apprehension of members of terrorist organisations and halting the activities of those detected to be operating in either of the countries.’ The parties also agreed on setting up a joint working group co-chaired by the deputy minister of the Interior in charge of security in Iran, and the undersecretary of the ministry of the Interior in Turkey, consisting of equal numbers of representatives. The joint working committee was supposed to meet once a year.45

  • 46 Mustafa Kibaroğlu and Barış Çağlar, ‘Implications of a Nuclear Iran for Turkey’ Middle East Policy, (...)

14Erdoğan paid his second visit to Iran in December 2006. Energy relations and Iran’s prospective place in the Nabucco project to carry Caspian and Middle Eastern gas to Eastern Europe, were the leading issues on the program of the visit. In the meantime, Iran’s nuclear program gradually came onto the agenda of Turkish-Iranian relations. Once the JDP came to power in Turkey, it adopted a cautious approach towards the controversial Iranian nuclear program. The Turkish security elite continued to consider a prospective nuclear Iran as a threat to Turkey and the region. However, the government spokesmen recognised Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear program, and asked Iran to take the necessary measures to remove doubts over the project. When the negotiations between Iran and the EU-3 stalled after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in Iran in 2005, Turkey attempted to mediate between Iran and the West on the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program. With the encouragement of Turkey, the Secretary of National Security Council and the chief Iranian negotiator on the nuclear issue, Ali Larijani met Javier Solana, the chief commissioner of the EU in Ankara in April 2007. Turkey’s bid for the mediation progressed after Barack H. Obama, who promised peaceful solution of the nuclear controversy through dialogue with Iran, was elected to be the new President of the United States in November 2008. However, by then, neither of the parties were willing to recognise Turkey as the mediator.46

  • 47 ʻAnıtkabir’i istemedi ‘çalışma ziyareti’ oldu,ʼ Hürriyet, 2 August 2008, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr (...)
  • 48 ‘Ahmedinejad: Sultanahmet’te namaz büyük siyasi olay,’ Deutsche Welle Türkçe, 16 August 2008, https (...)

15Iranian President Ahmadinejad visited Turkey in August 2008. However due his reluctance to include paying homage to Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk in Ankara, as part of the official protocol, on which the Turkish elite were very sensitive at that time, his visit was arranged as a ‘working visit’ to Istanbul, where he met his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül, and Prime Minister Erdoğan.47 The parties signed the aforementioned agreement on the struggle against narcotics, organised crime and the fight against terrorism, and some cooperation documents on transportation, and tourism. They also signed a joint declaration on enhancing energy cooperation. One of the landmark features of this visit was Ahmadinejad’s attendance at the Friday prayers in the famous Sultan Ahmet Mosque along with a cheering crowd.48 At a time when sectarianism was put forward by some analysts as the new faultline of politics across the Middle East, the participation of a hardline Shiite Iranian president in Friday prayers in a mosque considered to be the centre of the so-called Sunni world, had a symbolic meaning. Accordingly, Turkey and Iran did not allow the prevalence of their sectarian differences over bilateral relations.

  • 49 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘Başbakan Erdoğan’ın Tahran Ziyaretinin Sonuçları ve Türkiye-İran İlişkilerinin Sın (...)

16The improvement of relations between Ankara and Tehran was illustrated well, when the Turkish government congratulated President Ahmadinejad on the occasion of his re-election to the office after a controversial election in June 2009. Despite the wide-ranging challenges to the election results embodied by the Green Movement, Prime Minister Erdoğan paid another visit to Tehran in October 2009, which was regarded as evidence of Turkish support for Ahmadinejad. Actually, in an interview ahead of his visit to Iran, Erdoğan called President Ahmadinejad a friend of Turkey. By then, the JDP government had adopted a more pro-Iranian position with respect to the nuclear case than its previously cautious approach. On several occasions, Erdoğan claimed that Iran’s nuclear program had no military dimension and blamed the Western countries for adopting a hypocritical view towards Iran. Additionally, Turkey and Iran developed similar positions with regard to regional issues. Erdoğan stated that regional issues could not be solved through the participation of extra-regional powers. Instead, he suggested that regional countries should take the initiative and lead cooperation for the solution of regional matters. In turn, his Iranian interlocutors praised Turkey’s increasing support for the Palestinian people and approach towards the Islamic world. While receiving Erdoğan and echoing his opposition to the involvement of outside powers in regional issues, Ayatollah Khamenei called the Western proposals for the regional issues irrelevant. He added that Turkey and Iran should try to be amicable for the solution of regional issues. However, the main ‘esprit’ of the visit as stated by Erdoğan, was the improvement of economic relations between Turkey and Iran. By that time, the total volume of trade between the two countries had reached to ten billion US dollars. During the visit, Erdoğan bid for the advancement of bilateral trade volume to the amount of thirty billion dollars within five years. In this respect, Turkish and Iranian officials discussed the establishment of free trade zones and joint industrial towns in border regions, the introduction of national currencies in bilateral trade, and the development of banking relations. Additionally, they signed a memorandum of understanding confirming previous energy protocols between Ankara and Tehran.49

17Turkey’s attempt to be a mediator in the nuclear dispute eventually yielded an outcome in May 2010. Then, in accordance with US President Obama’s request, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, along with his Brazilian counterpart Celso Amorim, persuaded Iranian nuclear negotiators to accept a deal, and signed the Tehran Declaration. The declaration showed Iran’s readiness to compromise on a deal which envisaged swapping a certain amount of its low-enriched uranium stockpile with fuel for the Tehran nuclear reactor which would be provided by the Vienna group. However, the declaration was rejected by the Vienna group, including the United States. Soon after the Tehran declaration, the US administration evoked a new round of UN sanctions (RES 1929) targeting the Iranian nuclear program, which disappointed the Turkish government. The rejection of the deal by the United States despite the declaration achieving virtually all demands of the Western countries, Davutoğlu argued, displayed the ʻhypocritical characteristics of Western policy that denied Iran’s right to have peaceful nuclear energy while turning a blind eye to Israeli nuclear activities.ʼ In turn, both Turkey and Brazil, then temporary seat holders in the UN Security Council, voted against the resolution in June 2010. Meanwhile, Turkish-Israeli relations worsened because of the Israeli army’s bloody intervention on the Mavi Marmara ferry leading a humanitarian aid flotilla to break the Israeli blockade around Gazza. In combination, these developments heated the debate on the shift of axis in Turkish foreign policy. To complement the picture for the critics of the JDP foreign policy, Turkey opposed attempts to name Iran as a potential threat within the framework of the missile defence shield program of NATO, in the summit meeting held in Lisbon, in October 2010.

18Against this background, the then Turkish President Abdullah Gül visited Iran accompanied by a large delegation including businessmen, governors, and academics in February 2011. In addition to his meetings with his Iranian interlocutors, President Gül visited Tabriz and Isfahan and attended the Turkish-Iranian business forum that discussed potentials and problems in economic relations between the two countries. On that visit which coincided with the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Gül called the leaders of Muslim countries ‘to heed the demands of the people’ which was regarded as a support for the ‘revolutionary movements’ in the Middle East.50

Estrangement

19Ankara and Tehran apparently had similar views towards the revolutionary movements across the Arab world which stemmed from different motivations. However, when the waves of anti-regime protests reached Syria in March 2011, Turkey and Iran adopted contradictory policies towards developments there, which overshadowed their relations for some time. Whereas Turkey favoured and supported the opposition movements, Iran stood with the Assad administration.

  • 51 Mirghasem Banihashemi, ‘Understanding the AKP’s regional policy: An Iranian Perspective,’ Discourse (...)
  • 52 Dışişleri Bakanı Sn. Ahmet Davutoğlu’nun İran Dışişleri Bakanı Ali Ekber Salihi ile Ortak Basın To (...)
  • 53 Hamid Ahmadi, Fahimeh Ghorbani, ‘The Impact of Syrian Crisis on Iran-Turkey Relations,’ Iranian Rev (...)

20In addition to their divergence in respect to the Syria crisis, Turkey conceded to the deployment of an American radar in Kürecik/Malatya, 700 kilometres from the Turco-Iranian border, as part of the NATO missile defence system. Actually, considering the security anxieties of Iran and to preserve good neighbourly relations, Turkey was initially reluctant to that concession and prevented any particular reference to Iran as the perceived source of threat. However, partly because of the growing pressure on Turkey, and partly because of their differences in regional issues, Turkey accepted the decision in September 2011. Together with Turkey’s active policy to support the Syrian opposition in coordination with the Western states, Turkish decision to host the American radar was viewed by the Iranian elite as the return of Turkey to its traditional pro-American axis.51 Hence, the Iranian reaction to the deployment of American radar was very threatening. IRGC Airforce Commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh warned that the radar would primarily be targeted by Iran in case it perceived a military threat. President Ahmadinejad claimed that ‘the missile shield was designed to protect the Zionist regime.’ Despite the Iranian reaction, the radar, jointly staffed by US and Turkish personnel become operational in January 2012. In order to allay Iranian concerns related to the radar, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu, paid a visit to Tehran in January 2012, where he stated that Turkey had never considered Iran as a threat and would not allow any attack on that country from Turkish soil. Likewise, Prime Minister Erdoğan specified that the radar would be in the control of Turkey, and it might ask NATO for the removal of the radar if its operation conflicted with the conditions of the Turkish government.52 However, the radar question continued to be a source of contention between Ankara and Tehran. Subsequently, President Ahmadinejad cancelled his planned visit to Konya, Turkey, to participate in the annual Shab-e Arus ceremonies to commemorate Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi at the last minute, arguably in protest of the deployment of the radar.53

  • 54 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘The ‘Fall’ of Turkey-Iran Relations,’ ORSAM Foreign Policy Analysis, 20 September (...)

21Meanwhile, the security cooperation between Ankara and Tehran stalled. Firstly, by the autumn of 2011 it appeared that the two countries could not coordinate their actions against the PKK and the PJAK in the north of Iraq. Turkish officials contended that Iran had ceased to share intelligence with Turkey on the activities of the PKK. The failure of security cooperation between Ankara and Tehran was illustrated by a mystery over the seizure of Murat Karayılan, a PKK leader, by the Iranian authorities in August 2011. Iranian officials however, refuted the news report published in TRT, the official broadcasting agency of Turkey, that claimed the seizure of Karayılan. In fact, Turkish authorities claimed, the National Intelligence Organization had informed its Iranian counterpart on the whereabouts of Karayılan, on the Iranian side of the Qandil Mountains. Some columnists in the pro-JDP media then started to claim that Iran was using Karayılan and the PKK against Turkey. As a matter of fact, the PJAK ‘unilaterally’ ceased its armed activities soon after the Karayılan mystery. In Turkey there were doubts and a reaction voiced by the then Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who said, ‘there are wheels within wheels’ regarding the fate of Karayılan.54

  • 55 Atilla Sandıklı, ‘Şemdinli’de Ne Oldu?’ BİLGESAM, 29 September 2012, http://www.bilgesam.org/incele (...)
  • 56 Larrabee and Nader, Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East, p.11.

22Moreover, the PKK mobilised its militants armed with heavy weapons and attempted to turn the Şemdinli district of Hakkari province, located in the tripoint of the Tukey-Iran-Iraq border, into a ‘liberated zone’ in the summer of 2012. The ensuing clashes between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK militants led to a considerable number of casualties.55 Turkish officials then reiterated their complaint that PKK members had infiltrated through Iranian soil, which arguably showed Iran’s changing attitude vis-à-vis the PKK. Many people in the Turkish media and among the security officials interpreted these developments as evidence of Iranian support for the PKK within the framework of its strategy to compel Ankara to step back from its proactive engagements in Iraq and Syria. To complement the picture, some Iranian officials made statements asking Turkey to keep out of Syria and focus on its own internal affairs.56

23Against this background, a series of mutual accusations and threats between Iranian and Turkish officials were exchanged through the media. Erdoğan warned Iran that the Assad administration was ʻgetting spoiledʼ by the encouragement of Iran, and asked Iran to withdraw its support from Bashar al-Assad. Likewise, Deputy Prime Minister Arınç blamed Iran for pursuing a sectarian agenda and remaining indifferent to the bloodshed in Syria. In return, Ramin Mehmanparast, then spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Affairs, claimed that Turkey was making a miscalculation with regard to Syria. Seyed Hossein Hosseini Naghavi, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said; ‘The Turkish government bears the main responsibility regarding these bombings, because it explicitly speaks of arming and sponsoring paramilitary groups acting in Syria.’ Iranian Joint Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Hassan Firouzabadi blamed Ankara for serving American interests in the region and warned Turkey, ‘if they accept such a norm, they must then realise that after Syria, Turkey and other [such] states will be next in line.’57 In response, Prime Minister Erdoğan emphasised that it was Turkey who stood alone with Iran, and asked the Iranian government to review its activities. At the height of the tension, Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi visited Ankara in August 2012, in order to reassure his Turkish counterparts on the Iranian governments’ view of Turkey.

24In order to reconcile their differences, particularly on Syria, Prime Minister Erdoğan met Ayatollah Khamenei in Mashhad, in March 2012. However, Khamenei reiterated the Iranian position of support for the Assad administration and its opposition to foreign interference in Syrian domestic politics. Erdoğan resolved that Assad was not trustworthy and should leave power. The Turkish-Iranian divergence on the Syrian crisis remained a thorny issue in bilateral relations, and mutual accusations continued through the media. For instance, Erdoğan, who was elected as the new president of Turkey in August 2014, publicly censured Khamenei for his support for Assad, arguably for resistance against Israel, although the latter killed two hundred and fifty thousand people in October 2014.58 Subsequently, ahead of his planned visit to Tehran in April 2015, Erdoğan complained about the Iranian policies attempting to dominate the region, and voiced the uneasiness of Turkey with those developments. Furthermore, he declared Turkish support for the Saudi military intervention against the Huthi advances in Yemen, and asked Iran to withdraw its forces from there.59

25Despite the row between Turkey and Iran with regard to regional and security issues, economic relations between Turkey and Iran improved considerably. Turkey challenged the unilateral sanctions of the EU and the United States against Iran, and encouraged its tradesmen to enhance their economic transactions. As a result, the volume of bilateral trade between Turkey and Iran amounted to twenty-two billion dollars in 2012. Likewise, Turkey continued to support and facilitate nuclear negotiations between Tehran and the P5+1 countries (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany). In this regard, Ankara hosted a new round of negotiations in April 2012, while Istanbul hosted numerous technical meetings between the parties.

26The election of Hassan Rouhani to the office of presidency in Iran in June 2013 boosted Turkish-Iranian diplomatic relations. Rouhani’s ‘moderate’ approach to foreign policy which valued diplomacy, cooperation, and constructive engagement was welcomed by the JDP government in Turkey. Erdoğan paid a landmark visit to Tehran in January 2014. Turkish and Iranian governments agreed on the establishment of the High-Level Cooperation Council (HCC) and signed a preferential trade agreement. While the long-awaited preferential trade agreement was supposed to boost bilateral economic relations, the establishment of the HCC provided an institutional mechanism to stabilise and strengthen different aspects of Turkish-Iranian relations.

27Subsequent to the establishment of the HCC, Iranian President Rouhani, accompanied by a crowded delegation, visited Ankara and the parties held the first HCC meeting in April 2014. The visit of Rouhani was marked by the conclusion of ten cooperation agreements or memoranda of understanding in various respects. In return, President Erdoğan visited Tehran in April 2015 to hold the second meeting of the HCC. The third meeting of the HCC was held in Ankara in April 2016, with the participation of President Rouhani.

  • 60 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘Iran and Turkey Relations after the Nuclear Deal: A Case for Compartmentalization, (...)

28In spite of the acceleration of high-level exchanges between Turkish and Iranian officials, their differences on regional issues continued to shadow bilateral relations. For that reason, surprisingly to many observers, the Turkish establishment and public opinion was divided in their assessment of the nuclear deal achieved between Iran and the P5+1 in July 2015. Anxious about a deal that would supposedly make Iran more powerful and aggressive in regional politics, a great number of the elite were concerned with the implications of the deal on Turkish-Iranian relations. Conversely, another group of the elite welcomed a deal that would purportedly provide new opportunities in bilateral relations. The JDP government’s assessment was indecisive. Reflecting the ambiguity of his government’s view, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the foreign minister, welcomed the deal but asked Iran to revise its role particularly in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, and to cease its sectarian policies. Later statements released by high-level Turkish officials repeated Çavuşoğlu’s request, and invited Iran to behave in a responsible manner in the region and avoid destruction and violence. President Erdoğan also reiterated his criticism of Iran’s regional policies in January 2016, that aimed to expand its sphere of influence in the region by turning sectarian divisions into violent conflicts. Turkish blame unleashed a counter-campaign from the Iranian side that targeted President Erdoğan. Iranian officials criticised the JDP government for fuelling extremists in Syria for the sake of overthrowing Assad. Iranian media circulated some reports that claimed the Erdoğan family’s support for ISIS. The rising political tension between Ankara and Tehran coincided with the rise of PKK attacks inside Turkey, which led to the revival of discussions on Iranian support for the terrorist organisation. Moreover, many pro-government pundits in Turkey blamed Iran for supporting the PYD (Democratic Union Party), an offshoot of the PKK in Syria, against Turkish security interests.60

Amicable Relations?

29Although the nuclear deal of 2015 failed to yield any remarkable improvements in Turkish-Iranian relations, certain developments in the year of 2016 unleashed an unprecedentedly close relationship between Ankara and Tehran. Firstly, Davutoğlu, the then prime minister, paid a visit to Tehran in March 2016. He talked about the significance of the interaction between Ankara and Tehran with reference to regional matters, albeit that they might have different views and interests. He stated in Tehran that Turkey and Iran ‘should not leave the fate of the region to extra-regional powers.’ One month later, although Iran was seriously criticised in the OIC Summit held in Istanbul, Iranian President Rouhani visited Ankara. Rouhani called the disparity between Turkey and Iran with respect to the regional matters ‘minor differences of opinion’, and emphasised the commitment of both countries to strengthen their relations in all fields. Thus, a new understanding was about to develop between Ankara and Tehran on regional issues.

30Actually, the call for regional solutions to the regional problems was not a noble idea on the agenda of Turkish-Iranian relations. However, the JDP government deliberately avoided engaging in a regional scheme exclusively with Iran. New dynamics that emerged across the Middle East subsequent to the Arab Spring, compelled both capitals to reconsider their regional policies. First of all, the landscape of war among antagonistic groups in Syria dramatically changed. The opposition groups fighting against the Assad administration failed to establish a united front. Furthermore, they divided into numerous rival groups that contributed to the rise of extremist groups reinforced by foreign fighters. Then, the Western countriesʼ concerns with the rise of extremist movements replaced their preoccupation with a political transition in Syria. Consequently, international initiatives that brought some Arab and Western states led by the United States along with Turkey aimed at promoting a power transition in Syria, faded away. The divergence of the Turkish and Saudi policies towards regional developments and Syria after the military coup d’état in Egypt in July 2013, the reluctance of the Obama administration to take the lead in a decisive military intervention against the Assad administration despite the accusations that it used chemical weapons in August 2013 and the stalling Geneva process that envisaged a negotiated transition process in due period, strengthened the position of Assad. Through the strong backing of Iran and militia groups mobilised by Iran, the regime forces gained a strong hand vis-a-vis the opposition. The military involvement of Russia alongside the Assad rule in September 2015 provided the military superiority for the regime forces to recover most territories that it had previously lost to the opposition fighters. However, the involvement of Russia in the Syria crisis relatively marginalised Iran’s position, since Russia started to speak in the international arena on behalf of Assad. Moreover, both Russia and the United States, which deployed some special forces in order to fight against extremist movements, especially ISIS (Daesh) in Syria, courted the PYD, and its militia force the YPG, an offshoot of the PKK in that country which claimed leadership over the Syrian Kurds. Combined with the aforementioned developments, both the Russian and the American interest in this Kurdish group that seized considerable territory in the north of Syria, compelled Ankara and Tehran to review their regional differences, especially with regard to Syria.

31Secondly, an extremist group named ISIS (Daesh) that first emerged in Iraq after the American occupation, swiftly captured vast territories in Iraq and Syria particularly in 2014. ISIS heavily used a sectarian rhetoric against the Shiites, declared the establishment of an ‘Islamic State’ over the captured territories, and threatened both Iran and Turkey. It perpetrated numerous terrorist attacks in the respective countries. Thus, the rise of ISIS turned into a common security concern for both countries. In the midst of an international and regional campaign to fight against ISIS, the leader of the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq), Masoud Barzani put forward an idea to hold a referendum for the prospective independence of the Kurdish entity. Furthermore, immediately after the liberation of some territories that were disputed between Erbil and Baghdad by the Kurdish peshmerga from ISIS control, the KRG set September 25, 2017, as the date of the referendum. The Kurdish bid for independence drew the ire of both Ankara and Tehran which started to coordinate their efforts with Baghdad in order to prevent the independence of the KRG.

  • 61 Hossein Yarmohammadian, A. Omidi, S. Ebrahimi, ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertaint (...)

32Finally, the failed military coup attempt that was staged in July 2016 against the JDP government in Turkey became very effective in furthering Turkey-Iran relations. Despite the misgivings between Ankara and Tehran for a number of reasons in the preceding years, Iran extended its support for the elected government against the coup plotters.61 While the Western countries were reluctant to even condemn the coup plot, and busy with warning the Turkish government about emergency measures taken after the coup attempt, the support that came from Tehran was very valuable for President Erdoğan. Turkish-Iranian diplomatic exchanges were accelerated and paved the ground for increasing diplomatic and security cooperation between them, related to the Syria crisis and the KRG bid for independence.

  • 62 ‘Türkiye ve İran’dan terör örgütlerine karşı ‘ortak operasyon’ kararı,’ NTV, 20 November 2018, http (...)

33Against this background, Turkey and Iran, along with Russia, established a trilateral mechanism to deal with the Syria crisis. The growing cooperation between these three countries yielded the first results in the process of the armed opposition forces’ evacuation of Aleppo, the second biggest city in Syria, in December 2016. On December 20, 2016, Iranian, Russian, and Turkish foreign ministers met in Moscow and issued a joint declaration. The Moscow declaration reiterated the shared commitment of the parties for the preservation of the territorial integrity of Syria, and to fight jointly against ISIS and al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliated extremist organisation. They also declared their willingness to be the guarantors of a prospective agreement that would be negotiated between the Syrian opposition and the government, which inaugurated the Astana process. Meanwhile, Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Iran paid a three-day visit to Ankara in August 2017. In fact, since the Islamic revolution, the security elite in both countries were skeptical towards one another. Bagheri’s visit to Turkey marked the first meeting of top military commanders, which indicated that the relationship between the two countries went beyond economic and political aspects to include cooperation on military and regional issues. In September 2017, Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi foreign ministers issued a joint communiqué to proclaim their opposition to the looming Kurdish independence referendum. The Turkish Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Hulusi Akar visited Tehran in early October 2017. Subsequently, President Erdoğan visited the capital of Iran to hold the fourth meeting of the HCC. Then the high-level Turkish and Iranian officials gave strong messages for the development of a security cooperation between Ankara and Tehran, and for their resolved opposition to the independence bid of the KRG. As a result, Turkey and Iran coordinated their policies in order to foil the KRG bid for independence. They also revived their cooperation against the PKK. The Iran-Turkey High Border Commission met in April 2018, after a six-year interval. The Joint Working Group that was envisaged by the Security Cooperation agreement of 2008, was activated and the parties met regularly after 2016. At the end of the third meeting of the joint working group, Iran and Turkey agreed to coordinate joint operations against terrorist organisations.62

  • 63 ‘Erdoğan: ABD gibi İran da stratejik ortağımız,’ CNNTurk, 25 July 2018, https://www.cnnturk.com/vid (...)
  • 64 ‘President at the meeting of High Council of Iran-Turkey Strategic Cooperation,’ IRI Presidency, 20 (...)

34While Turkey was enhancing its relationships with Iran, and Russia, Turkish-American relations continued to deteriorate even after Donald Trump came to power in the United States. The successive American administrations rejected persistent Turkish demands for the repatriation of Fethullah Gülen, the alleged leader of the failed coup attempt, who has stayed in Pennsylvania for many years. Additionally, the Trump administration maintained its predecessor’s policy to support the PYD/YPG in Syria, against Turkish warnings and security concerns. In this context, President Trump decided to withdraw his country from the nuclear deal and initiated new sanctions against Iran. President Erdoğan censured Trump’s decision and renewed his opposition to unilateral American sanctions. In reaction to Trump’s decision and for the first time, Erdoğan named Iran ‘both a neighbour and a strategic partner.’63 Likewise, in his meeting with Iranian President Rouhani in December 2018, Erdoğan said, ‘Turkey considers Iran’s security and stability as its own security and stability,’ which illustrated his government’s determination to develop and preserve amicable relations with Iran.64

Economic Relations

  • 65 Mustafa Kutlay, ‘Economy as the Practical Hand of ‘New Turkish Foreign Policy’: A Political Economy (...)

35Economic relations between Iran and Turkey were driven by rising political tension between the two capitals during the 1990s. The improvement of diplomatic relations between Iran and Turkey since 2000 onwards eased the development of economic ties. The foreign policy strategy of the JDP that prioritised economic and trade relations played a considerable role in the improvement of Turkey’s economic relations with Iran.65

  • 66 Nader Habibi, ‘Turkey and Iran: Growing Economic Relations despite Western Sanctions,’ Brandeis Uni (...)

36The main motivation in economic relations between the two countries are the complementary economic resources of both countries.66 Considering Turkey’s dependency on the imported energy sources of oil and gas, and geographic proximity, its access to Iranian energy resources has been very valuable. On the other hand, through its large population and growing economy Iran has emerged as a promising market for Turkish exports. Given the international sanctions primarily imposed by the Western countries on Iran, Tehran has become more sensitive to the preservation of economic and trade ties with Turkey.

37The annual meetings of the Joint Economic Commission that bring Iranian and Turkish officials together have been held in Tehran and Ankara respectively. Additionally, the Turkish-Iranian Business Council that was established in 2001 has served as a platform that brings representatives of the Turkish and Iranian private sectors together. Turkish-Iranian Business Forums that have been organised by the Council and promoted by officials in the respective countries have been meeting regularly since 2002. Also, local chambers of commerce and industry in border provinces of the respective countries have been organising mutual visits. MUSIAD (The Independent Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association) of Turkey has been very active in promoting trade relations with Iran. It has opened representative offices in Tabriz and Tehran. Moreover, a number of business associations have been established in Turkey especially to promote bilateral economic relations between Turkey and Iran.67 For instance, Iranian businessmen based in Turkey founded TISIAD (The Turkish-Iranian Industrialist and Businessmen’s Association) in 2001. Likewise, another businessmen’s association called the Association for the Development of Trade with Iran and the Middle East was founded in 2009. Iranian entrepreneurs particularly interested in the Aegean region in the west of Anatolia, joined together to establish the Aegean-Iran Cooperation Association in 2011.68 Finally, in order to boost trade relations with Iran, the Turkish Exporters Assembly inaugurated the Turkish Trade Centre in Tehran which hosted the representative offices of fifty-nine Turkish companies, on 25 February 2017.69

Trade

  • 70 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals…, p. 51; Habibi, ‘Turkey and Iran: Growing Economic Rel (...)
  • 71 Ambargo Sonrası İran Ekonomik ve Ticari Etki Analizi, DEİK-TİM, June 2016, https://www.deik.org.tr/ (...)

38Soon after coming to power in March 2003, the JDP government issued a decree to promote cross-border trade by significantly reducing customs duties for agricultural and industrial products imported from Iran, along with Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, both countries modernised and improved shared custom gates in order to promote cross border trade.70 At the same line, previously signed agreements on the Promotion and Protection of Investments, and on the Prevention of Double Taxation were approved and enacted in 2005. Accordingly, both countries assured the other that suitable conditions and protection for investments and investors would be provided. In addition, they signed the Preferential Trade Agreement in 2014 that aimed to decrease custom duties on specified goods, which was put into force as of January 2015.71

39Henceforth, Turkish exports to Iran increased considerably from less than three hundred million US dollars to above three and a half billion in the early 2010s. Turkish exports to Iran included precious and semi-precious stones; precious metals; pearls; coins; boilers; machinery; mechanical equipment and tools; knitted apparel and accessories; plastics and plasticware; wood and woodenware; motor vehicles and their spare parts; electrical machinery and equipment and accessories; synthetic and artificial non-continuous fibres; steel products and textiles. Almost 80 percent of Turkish exports to Iran consisted of industrial goods and machines, whereas 90 percent of its imports from Iran corresponded to petroleum and natural gas.72 In addition to oil and gas, Turkey has imported mineral oils; chemical-based products; copper and copper-ware; zinc and zinc-ware; aluminium, and aluminium-ware; iron and steel; fertilisers; plastics and plasticware from Iran.

Energy

  • 73 In that particular year, Turkey exported around $10 billion in return for its imports that realised (...)
  • 74 Average annual OPEC crude oil price from 1960 to 2018 (in U.S. dollars per barrel),’ Statista, htt (...)
  • 75 Economy and Foreign Trade Report 2016, p.67.

40The paramount share of Iran’s energy exports to Turkey makes the Turkish-Iranian annual trade volume sensitive to the fluctuations in international crude oil prices. The rising crude prices were reflected in the rise of the value of Turkish imports, whereas dramatic falls in crude prices noticeably decreased the worth of the total trade volume. For instance, while the average crude prices were above the level of one hundred US dollars per barrel throughout 2011 to 2013, Turkish annual imports from Iran were valued at over ten billion dollars, which resulted in high trade volumes between the two countries. Meanwhile, the proportion of gold in Turkish exports to Iran dramatically increased after 2010 in order to counterweigh international sanctions. The increasing amount of gold exported coincided with the high crude prices culminating at the peak in Turkish-Iranian total trade volume, which was about twenty-two billion US dollars in 2012.73 A year later, partly because of decreasing oil prices, and partly because of growing constraints on Turkish gold exports, trade records returned to their usual levels. When the crude prices decreased to a level below fifty dollars per barrel in 2015 and 2016, the amount of the value of the total trade volume remained under ten billion dollars. It is noteworthy that primarily because of the declining oil prices in 2016 to around forty-one dollars, the balance of trade between the two countries shifted in favour of Turkey for the first time in the recent decades.74 In that particular year there was a considerable leap in Turkish exports to Iran which was boosted by the implementation of the preferential trade agreement, and also affected by an increasing amount of exported gold.75 Due to the volatile nature of the total value of economic transactions between the two countries, their share in one another’s total foreign trade records continuously changed. While at times, Iran and Turkey ranked within the first five trading partners respectively, at other times that ranking has changed.

  • 76 Actually, the two countries have also worked together on electricity production and transportation. (...)
  • 77 Gawdat Bahgat, ‘Iran-Turkey Energy Cooperation: Strategic Implications,’ Middle East Policy, vol.21 (...)
  • 78 Ellen R. Wald, ‘Turkey and Iran: Energy, Economics and Politics in the face of Sanctions,’ Turkish (...)

41Energy relations between the two countries mainly revolved around the Iranian supply of gas and oil to Turkey.76 Turkey’s demand for energy has increased considerably because of the growth of its industry and population. Turkey’s energy demand, which was around 114 Mtoe in 2011, is expected to reach 237 Mtoe by 2030.77 90 percent of the Turkish energy demand has been matched by fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal). The share of gas in the Turkish energy mix has considerably increased since the JDP came to power, because most of the power plants were converted to natural gas. Then, negligible amounts of Turkish oil and gas reserves made Turkey dependent on foreign supplies. Russia has been providing around 50 percent of its natural gas consumption. Iran is the second primary source of gas for Turkey.78

  • 79 Elin Kinnader, ‘The Turkish-Iranian Gas Relationship: Politically Successful, Commercially Problema (...)

42The history of the gas trade between the two countries dates back to the 1996 deal that envisaged Iran’s gas delivery for twenty-five years with increasing amounts of supply, which would ultimately reach to 10 bcm per year and the installation of a pipeline for that purpose. The flow of gas through the pipeline began in late 2001. However, after the start of the flow of gas to Turkey, Ankara and Tehran frequently disputed either the volume, or the price of the gas. Turkey ceased gas imports for a while in 2002 partly for technical problems and partly for lack of demand. Turkey then forced Iran to renegotiate the agreement and subsequently secured a lower price. Additionally, the volume subjected to take or pay statement, was decreased from 87 percent to 70 percent, which provided BOTAŞ, the Turkish company that has the monopoly of gas imports, with the manoeuvrability to decrease its imports by 30 percent of the agreed amount, without facing any penalties.79 However, Turkey continued to dispute the price which resulted in cuts in the flow of gas. On the other side, Iran cut off its supply to Turkey allegedly for cold weather conditions in January 2006. Sometimes, the pipeline was hit by explosions, arguably by the PKK attacks that interrupted gas supply. Iran decreased the volume of gas exported to Turkey in the early months of 2007 after its dispute with Turkmenistan over gas deliveries and cold weather conditions.

  • 80 Akın Ünver, ‘Turkish-Iranian Energy Cooperation and Conflict: The Regional Politics,’ Middle East P (...)
  • 81 Kemal İnat, ‘Ekonomik İşbirliği Örgütü’nün 30. Yılınde Türkiye-İran Ekonomik İlişkileri,’ SETA Anal (...)
  • 82 Ambargo Sonrası İran Ekonomik ve Ticari Etki Analizi, p.22.
  • 83 ‘Turkey to receive $1.9b from Iran over gas dispute,’ Financial Tribune, 24 January 2017, https://f (...)

43Disagreements between Iran and Turkey on the volume, quality, and pricing of gas became paramount over time. Whenever bilateral relations were tense, disagreements between the parties over pricing and some cuts in the flow of gas were presented by some media outlets as the Iranian utilisation of the ‘energy weapon.’80 Due to continuing disputes between the parties, the Turkish BOTAŞ went twice to international arbitration against Iran. In the first case, in response to BOTAŞ’s file against the NIGC (the National Iranian Gas Company) dated 2004, the arbitration court awarded in 2009 an 18 percent decrease in the price of gas exported to Turkey and almost one billion US dollars as compensation for previous transactions.81 BOTAŞ went to international arbitration against Iran for the second time in March 2012, for disagreements on pricing. Four years later, the arbitration court decided in favour of Turkey in terms of price disagreement.82 The court ruled that Iran should cut the price of exported gas price by approximately 13 percent, and ordered Iran to pay close to two billion dollars to BOTAŞ for overcharging between 2011 and 2015. With regard to the Turkish case against Iran for deficiencies in delivery, the court accepted the Iranian arguments.83

  • 84 Wald, ‘Turkey and Iran: Energy, Economics and Politics in the face of Sanctions,’ p.142.
  • 85 İnat, ‘Ekonomik İşbirliği Örgütü’nün 30. Yılında Türkiye-İran Ekonomik İlişkileri,’ p.24.
  • 86 Kinnader, ‘The Turkish-Iranian Gas Relationship …,’ p.11-15.
  • 87 ‘Turkish PM says wants Nabucco to transport Iran gas,’ Reuters, 13 July 2009. https://uk.reuters.co (...)
  • 88 Ünver, ‘Turkish-Iranian Energy Cooperation and Conflict …,’ p.134.

44The Turkish and Iranian attempts to enhance their cooperation on gas transactions however, remained inconclusive. Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding in July 2007 that anticipated that the Turkish public oil company, TPAO, would develop phases 22, 23, and 24 in the South Pars gas field. Accordingly, a pipeline would be constructed between the two countries; Turkey would use gas through that pipeline at a discounted level, while a considerable amount of gas was to be exported to European markets.84 Additionally, the protocol referred to the Turkmenistan gas which was to be transited through Iran and Turkey to Europe. The American embassy in Ankara reacted against that protocol and warned Turkey not to endanger joint projects between the United States and Turkey in other areas.85 Despite the American warning, the JDP government seemed resolved to further its energy relationship with Iran. As a supplementary to the first memorandum, Iran and Turkey signed another memorandum in November 2008. TPAO was expected to invest in the fields assigned to it a total amount of US$15 billion in order to produce 20 to 35 bcm of gas per year, based on a buy-back contract. TPAO was interested in starting its development work in November 2009, a date which was delayed by both parties. Iran suggested a change of locations for the development offered to Turkey, which was rejected by the latter. There was also disagreement between the parties over the price, while Turkey was especially concerned with the buy-back conditions. Other issues that overshadowed the project were regarding the terms of agreement considering Iranian domestic use, Turkey’s concerns with a projected over-supply and their previous disagreements in gas trade. Additionally the prospective transfer of Iranian gas to Europe was a daunting task because there was no established pipeline, which led to speculations as to which pipeline project between Nabucco, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, and the Persian Pipeline, would be preferred to transfer Iranian gas.86 Turkey entertained the idea of incorporating Iran into the Nabucco gas pipeline plan that was projected to transfer the Caspian natural gas resources to the southeastern and eastern European markets.87 Both the United States and the EU objected to the involvement of Iran in the plan. With the intensification of sanctions over Iran, the feasibility of carrying Iranian gas to the European markets decreased considerably. Consequently, the early political will to further energy relations between Iran and Turkey failed to materialise, and they failed to finalise the initial agreements.88

  • 89 In order to overcome financial constraints for the shipment of payments for oil and gas, Iran accep (...)
  • 90 Büşra Z. Özdemir, ‘İran Yaptırımları ve Türkiye-İran Enerji İlişkilerine Etkileri,’ SETA Analiz, no (...)
  • 91 Wald, ‘Turkey and Iran: Energy, Economics and Politics in the face of Sanctions,’ p.143.

45Turkey has been importing 90 percent of its oil needs. Having considerable oil reserves, Iran has emerged as a potential oil supplier to Turkey. Oil trade between the two countries has a long history. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, Ankara made several oil-for-goods agreements with Tehran. The oil trade between the two countries continued over time. Thus, Iran used to be one of the main oil suppliers for the Turkish market. After the US sanctions on Iran were intensified in 2010, Turkey was granted some exemptions because it had considerably reduced its oil imports from Iran. Nevertheless, Turkey continued to import gas at regular levels due to the take-or-pay principle included in the relevant deal, and oil from Iran at dramatically reduced levels.89 Despite the reductions in Turkish oil imports from Iran between 2013-2016, Iran continued to be one of the two main suppliers, while Turkey ranked fifth among Iran’s customers.90 After the removal of sanctions in January 2016, Turkish oil imports from Iran increased to 21 million barrels in that year, and 52.8 million barrels in 2017.91

Investments

  • 92 Atay Akdevelioğlu, ‘Türk Şirketlerinin İran’da Yatırım Girişimleri, TAV ve TURKCELL Örnekleri,’ Gaz (...)
  • 93 Akdevelioğlu, ‘Türk Şirketlerinin İran’da Yatırım Girişimleri, TAV ve TURKCELL Örnekleri,’ p.145-46
  • 94 According to that law, all privatisation contracts with consortiums in which majority shares were h (...)

46Iranian attempts at drawing international finance and promoting foreign companies to invest in Iran in the late 1990s, opened a new opportunity in Turkish-Iranian relations. Since then, a growing number of Turkish delegations of businessmen and entrepreneurs interested in the Iranian market visited the country.92 Some of the Turkish investments failed partly because of factional bickering in Iran. Among them the investments of TAV and Turkcell are worthy of mentioning. TAV won the tender for construction of an international airport in Tehran (IKIA) based on a build-manage-deliver contract. However, immediately after the operations began in May 2004, the airport was occupied by the Revolutionary Guards ostensibly for the company’s alleged ties with Israel. Subsequently, the TAV personnel were forced to leave the airport.93 In the meantime, a consortium led by Turkcell won the tender to determine the first private mobile operator in Iran. Soon after the signing of the contract, a new legislation by the Iranian parliament prevented its operationalisation.94 Then, President Khatami cancelled his arranged visit to Turkey in September 2004.

47Notwithstanding the challenges, there are some success stories for Turkish companies venturing into Iran. Gübretaş, a leading Turkish fertiliser company bought majority shares (48.8 percent) of Iranian giant Razi petrochemicals in 2008, which it still operates. It is regarded as the biggest Turkish industrial investment outside the country.95 Subsequently, Zeynep Özal, daughter of the late Turgut Özal, entered the construction sector in Iran with a number of projects worth four hundred million dollars, including the construction of a multi-story shopping centre.96 Additionally, Unit International, a major Turkish company signed a 4.2 billion dollar deal with Iran’s Energy Ministry in June 2016 to set up four natural gas power plants.97 Previously it had completed the construction of the Rudeshur Natural Gas Power Plant in 2008.98 Hayat Chemicals built a factory in Zenjan in July 2011 in order to manufacture baby diapers and women hygienic pads.99 The Kuzu Grup, a Turkish construction firm, was awarded the tender for the Maskan Mahr project, a large social housing scheme which included the construction of fifty-seven thousand units in Tehran, in 2010.100 After the removal of sanctions, the Turkish Kaya Group entered the Iranian tourism market, and with its Iranian partner the Eromi family, opened the Kaya Laleh Park Hotel in Tabriz.101 Recently, President Erdoğan noted that seventy-seven Turkish companies have one and a half billion US dollars’ worth of investment in Iran.102

  • 103 Iranians established 418 new companies in Turkey in 2010, 665 new companies in 2011, and 781 new co (...)
  • 104 ‘Büyükelçilik Müşaviri: İran ve Türkiye ticareti Amerikan baskısını atlatmasıyla artacak,’ Milliyet(...)
  • 105 İran ülke notları,’ DEİK, https://www.deik.org.tr/uploads/iran-infografik.pdf, (accessed on 5 Febr (...)
  • 106 ‘Hema, Irankhodro say to sign 200 mln Euro deal,’ Reuters, 16 September 2010. https://www.reuters.c (...)

48Iranian businessmen have also showed an interest in investing in Turkey. Increasing international pressure on Iran has led some Iranian businessmen to turn their faces towards Turkey.103 Compared to the 319 Iranian firms operating in Turkey in 2002, that number reached 1470 by late 2010 and 2072 by 2011. By late 2017, the number of Iranian companies operating in Turkey had reached 4,624,104 however, the value of Iranian investments in Turkey remained low, around just one hundred million dollars.105 After a series of meetings with Turkish automotive producers in search of partnerships, Irankhodro proclaimed the signature of a two hundred million dollar agreement with Hema Endüstri in order to jointly produce cars in Turkey.106 However, they could not bring this initiative to fruition.

Banking

  • 107 Ambargo Sonrası İran Ekonomik ve Ticari Etki Analizi, p.23. American administration pressured on Tu (...)
  • 108 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals …, p.58.

49After the JDP came to power, it promoted the development of banking ties between Iran and Turkey as conducive to prospective trade and economic transactions. In this respect, the Turkish government allowed Bank Mellat, which has been operating in Turkey since 1981 with three branches in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, to open new branches in March 2004. Additionally, Bank Saman applied for a license to be operational in Turkey.107 Bank Tejarat and Bank Pasargad were also reportedly interested in entering Turkey, but none of the aforementioned banks had opened branches in Turkey by 2019. On the other hand, Iran did not allow operation of foreign financial institutions inside the country. Although two Turkish state-owned banks, Halkbank and Ziraat Bankası, have representative offices in Tehran, they are not fully operative in banking transactions. 108

  • 109 ‘Mehmet Hakan Atilla gets 32 month sentence in Iran sanction case,’ Al Jazeera, 16 May 2018, https: (...)

50While Iran was isolated from the international finance system under the sanctions, the two governments gave attention to developing bilateral banking ties. Halkbank especially, helped with payments to Iran for its oil exports. Furthermore, it arranged Indian payments to Iran in 2013. However, the Deputy Director General of Halkbank, M. Hakan Atilla was arrested by the US authorities in New York in March 2017, and condemned to a thirty-two-month prison sentence for helping Iran evade the sanctions.109 Since then, there have been some rumours hinting that Halkbank would also be punished for evading the sanctions; yet, there is no credible report on that matter.

  • 110 ‘İran ve Türkiye arasında milli paralarla ticaret yapılması nihaileşti,’ IRNA Türkçe, 20 October, 2 (...)
  • 111 ‘Iran-Turkey currency swap entered into force, with the opening of the first letter of credit by Ba (...)

51Additionally, the Turkish and Iranian governments have been working on the utilisation of national currencies in their mutual trade, both as a way of reducing convertibility costs and avoiding the American sanctions. The first step in introducing the national currencies in bilateral relations was taken in 2008. However, the bulk of trade between the two countries was handled in US dollars, and euros. Eventually, the central banks of the two countries finalised an agreement in October 2017 to facilitate trade with national currencies.110 Accordingly, the Central Banks would have a certain amount in the currency of the respective country with which to facilitate payments. The currency swap agreement between Iran and Turkey entered into force in April 2018.111

Tourism

  • 112 Ceyhun Can Özcan, ‘İran-Türkiye Turizm İlişkileri,’ İRAM, Ankara, 6 September 2017, https://www.ira (...)
  • 113 2017 Tahran Uluslararası Turizm Fuarı Değerlendirme Raporu, TÜRSAB, https://www.tursab.org.tr/apps/ (...)
  • 114 Ambargo Sonrası İran Ekonomik ve Ticari Etki Analizi, p.189.
  • 115 ‘Turkish investors to visit Iran on hotel building plan,’ Tehran Times, 21 October 2017. https://ww (...)

52In the last couple of decades, Turkish-Iranian economic ties have gained a new dimension with the rise of tourist mobility between the two countries.112 The number of Iranian tourists visiting Turkey gradually increased from around four hundred thousand people in 2002 to almost two million in the early 2010s. Turkey is considered to be the first choice for Iranian tourists going abroad. The growing number of Iranian tourists has contributed much to the Turkish economy. Iranian tourists visiting Turkey usually spend an average of seven days, and an amount of money close to one thousand US dollars. However, the Iranian authorities complained about the relatively small numbers of Turkish citizens visiting Iran. In 2016, the number of Turks who visited Iran reached two hundred and forty-three thousand. Consequently, Iran became the sixth most popular place for Turkish tourists going abroad.113 Turkish citizens ranked fourth after Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan among the five million to visit Iran in 2014.114 The removal of sanctions on Iran and the Rouhani government’s promotion of tourism has provided new opportunities for Turkish businessmen, who have been considering investing in Iran’s tourism industry by building luxury hotels. 115

53Recently, either due to economic or political reasons, a growing number of Iranians have become interested in moving to Turkey. After the decision of the Turkish government to ease property sales to foreigners – the government decided to grant citizenship to those foreigners who buy real estate worth of two hundred and fifty thousand US dollars in 2017 – Iranians have constituted a conspicuous number among the foreigners who have bought properties in Turkey. Last year, in 2018, Iranians purchased more than one thousand homes and apartments, most of which were worth between fifty thousand and two hundred thousand US dollars. Hence, the number of Iranians living in Turkey with residence permits reached 22,457 in 2017.116 Additionally, there are a considerable number of asylum-seeking Iranian nationals, estimated to be around thirty-eight thousand people, who have been temporarily settled and put under temporary protection in Turkey while waiting for the processing of their applications to the UNHCR.117 According to recent news reports, the number of Iranians living in Turkey as of 2018 was around sixty-nine thousand, which probably included asylum seekers and students.118 Iran is among the top three countries, alongside Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Syria which sends students to Turkey. There are more than one hundred thousand international students studying in Turkish higher education institutions as of 2018, among which Iranian students constitute almost six thousand.119

  • 120 Özcan, ‘İran-Türkiye Turizm İlişkileri.’

54Corresponding to the rising number of tourist, student and business people transiting between them, Turkey and Iran have agreed to diversify and increase the frequency and direction of flights between the two countries. National flag-carrier Turkish Airlines currently flies to seven different destinations in Iran, including Tehran, Tabriz, Mashhad, Ahvaz, Isfahan, Shiraz, and Kermanshah. In return, Iran Air has regular flights to Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. Additionally, there are considerable number of charter flights between the two countries operated by private aviation companies.120

Regional Developments and Turkey-Iran Relations

55While Iran and Turkey under the JDP have steadily developed and maintained diplomatic and economic relations, regional developments particularly in the Caucasus and the Middle East have posed challenges. The diverging geopolitical interests of the two countries and their different foreign policy perspectives have prevented the development of regional cooperation. Despite the emphasis on the significance of Turkish-Iranian cooperation, mostly as part of a diplomatic courtesy, they have deliberately avoided region-wide cooperation. Furthermore, the emerging power vacuum and ensuing instability in their joint neighbourhood unleashed a revival of the so-called historic rivalry between Turkey and Iran. In this respect, the Iranian elite blamed Turkey firstly for Pan-Turkism to exert influence over the Caucasus and Central Asia, and then for neo-Ottomanism that is arguably in search of reviving the Turkish rule over the Middle East. The Turkish elite, in turn, blamed Iran for dreaming of resuscitating the Shiite expansionism of the Safavid Empire. However, the changing geopolitical considerations of the respective countries particularly after 2016, helped the development of regional cooperation between Ankara and Tehran.

The South Caucasus: From an Arena of Rivalry to Multilateral Cooperation?

  • 121 Larrabee and Nader, Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East, p.19-20.

56The South Caucasus used to be a source of geopolitical rivalry between Iran and Turkey in the 1990s. Growing Turkish-Azerbaijani relations over time were alarming for Iran because of its fear of Pan-Turkism. In order to counter growing relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan, Iran maintained cordial ties with Armenia. Unlike Turkey which shared the Azerbaijani perspective with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Iran called for the cessation of armed clashes and political solutions to the conflict, without asking for the end of the Armenian occupation. Moreover, Iran was economically marginalised from that region as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC), the winning project to transport Caspian oil resources to the Mediterranean port, bypassed Iranian soil. Baku and Tehran had also conflicting claims on the maritime and seabed boundaries in the Caspian basin. The tension between the Turkish-Azerbaijani axis and Iran escalated to its peak, when Baku and Tehran confronted each other over maritime borders and drilling rights on the Caspian shores in 2001. Iranian-Azerbaijani relations continued to sour through the subsequent decade due to Iran’s growing relations with Armenia, whereas Azerbaijan focused on enhancing its relations with Turkey, the United States and Israel.121

  • 122 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals…, p.45-49.
  • 123 Hasan Kanbolat, ‘Kafkas İstikrar ve İşbirliği Platformuna Ankara Ev Sahipliği Yapacak,’ Hürriyet, 1 (...)
  • 124 ‘About Turkic Council,’ Türk Keneşi/Turkic Council, https://www.turkkon.org/en/turk-konseyi-hakkind (...)

57The first decade of the JDP in power in Turkey witnessed the continuing competition between Ankara and Tehran over the Caucasus, and Central Asia to some extent.122 As an extension of the Turkish-Iranian rivalry, Prime Minister Erdoğan excluded Iran from his (aborted) proposal for the establishment of a ‘Caucasus Stability Forum’ in 2008 that would include Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia as a platform of dealing with regional matters.123 Additionally, Turkey furthered its relations with the Turkic states of Central Asia and Azerbaijan to establish a Turkic Council (Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States) in 2009, between Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which was aimed at promoting comprehensive cooperation among the member states.124 Conversely, Iran engaged in establishing a platform that would bring the Persian speaking countries, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Iran together. The Presidents of the three countries held a tripartite summit in Dushanbe in July 2006, which was followed by several rounds of annual summit meetings between the three heads of states.

  • 125 Evanthia Bella, ‘Turkish and Iranian interests and policies in the South Caucasus,’ Norwegian Peace (...)

58Despite their mutual misgivings and competition over the South Caucasus, Iran and Turkey along with Azerbaijan, have developed a trilateral mechanism in order to overcome latent and actual points of concern between the three countries and a trilateral cooperation and consultation platform. The first, and foremost aspect of this trilateral relationship has been the maintenance of a logistical connection between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, which is the Azerbaijani enclave surrounded by Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. It includes a land corridor to transfer oil, gas and electricity to that enclave through Iranian territories.125 The second aspect of this trilateral cooperation has been the development and connection of transportation routes, both railways and highways, with all three countries.

  • 126 Davutoglu says Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan look to enhance ties,’ World Bulletin, 17 April 2011, h (...)
  • 127 Richard Weitz, ‘Caspian Triangles: Azerbaijan’s Trilateral Diplomacy – A New Approach for A New Era (...)

59The foreign ministers of the respective countries, Elmar Mamadyarov, Ali Akbar Salehi, and Ahmet Davutoğlu held the first trilateral meeting in Urmia, Iran, in April 2011. Davutoğlu stated that ‘the main goal of the trilateral meeting was to improve cultural relations, increase travel among the countries and to develop new economic projects’, and ‘to combine the potential of these countries’ in a vast area ‘spanning the Caspian to the Indian Ocean and the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.’ The joint statement issued at the end of the meeting underscored that cooperation between the three countries would contribute to regional peace. Additionally, it acknowledged the right of every country to obtain nuclear energy within the framework of the NPT and under the supervision of IAEA. The joint statement foresaw cooperation among the security and intelligence departments of the three countries against terrorism, organised crime, drug, and human trafficking.126 The statement also predicted the ‘improvement of cooperation between the three countries in the areas of trade, industry, investment, transportation, communication, energy, tourism, science and technology.’ In this regard, the parties agreed to form a trilateral economic committee to examine and review the means and potential for ‘signing a preferential trade agreement, easing customs affairs, modernising border points, and establishing joint companies’ between the three countries. Accordingly, they entertained the idea of the establishment of a trilateral common market, which might serve as a catalyst for a common market for a wider region. Additionally, the development of transportation routes has been vital to the improvement of economic and commercial relations between the three countries. While Turkey has been regarded by Azerbaijan and Iran both as a market and a gateway for their products to reach European markets, Iran serves as a transit route connecting Turkey to Azerbaijan and Central Asia. Hence, the issue of the linking of highways and railways of the respective countries has been continuously on the agenda of the subsequent trilateral meetings.127

  • 128 Weitz, ‘Caspian Triangles: Azerbaijan’s Trilateral Diplomacy …, p.8. Speaking after the Nakhchivan (...)
  • 129 ‘Ramsar Statement of the Fourth Trilateral Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Islam (...)

60After the Urmia meeting, the Azerbaijani, Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers held five more meetings. Despite their diverse alliances and foreign policy orientations, in order to reassure each other, the parties repeatedly underlined that their territories would not be used for destructive activities against each other. They also reiterated their commitment to strengthen their cooperation in ‘the fight against terrorism and extremism, transnational organised crime, narcotics, arms and human trafficking.’ Despite their expressed interests in promoting a trilateral partnership, mutual mistrust, regional rivalries, sanctions, and other obstacles impeded the proposed cooperation schemes.128 At the fourth meeting held in Ramsar, Iran, in April 2016, the parties adopted the ‘Trilateral Sectoral Cooperation Action Plan for 2016-2018’ that would replace the Trilateral Sectoral Cooperation Action Plan for 2014-2016 adopted in the previous meeting held in Van, in March 2014. They also decided to establish a Steering Committee at the level of deputy foreign ministers for political affairs, which would act as a coordinating body of the trilateral mechanism and ensure the implementation of activities listed in the Action Plan.129

61The last trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers was the sixth one, held in Istanbul on October 30, 2018. In the joint statement after the meeting, the foreign ministers stressed their strong willingness to further solidarity and cooperation among their people, agreed to consult each other with related issues of common interest on different levels and platforms in international and regional organisations and agreed to support candidatures of the three countries in international and regional organisations. They confirmed their commitment to ‘sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of internationally recognised borders and peaceful settlement of all disputes, as well as non-interference in internal affairs.’ The parties reiterated that they would enhance their cooperation in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism and separatism, the struggle against transnational organised crime, narcotic trafficking, human trafficking, etc. Underlining the geographical location of the respective countries, they considered increasing cooperation for the development of the transport infrastructure. In this regard, they underlined the significance of large-scale projects for increasing interconnectivity between the three countries; underlined the full utilisation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and the completion of Rasht-Astara railway, projected to connect the Azerbaijani and Turkish railways, and the Iranian and Azerbaijani railways respectively, and encouraged the parties to make use of the full capacity of the ports for the benefit of the three countries. They also displayed their willingness to enhance commercial cooperation in the field of energy, the encouragement of the establishment of a ‘Trilateral Business Forum’ to further strengthen the economic and trade relations and create new opportunities among the business circles of the three countries, advancing cultural and scientific cooperation.130

  • 131 ‘Press Release Regarding the First Quadrilateral Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Turkey-Azerbaijan- (...)

62Thus, Turkey and Iran have apparently managed to overcome their differences and diverging interests in the Caucasus, and turn that region into an area of cooperation. In parallel to the trilateral cooperation mechanisms between Turkey-Azerbaijan-Iran, Turkey is also involved in another, but parallel trilateral mechanism between Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia in order to promote peace and stability in the Caucasus, and cooperation between the Caucasus countries. Complementary to the two parallel trilateral meetings, a quadripartite meeting was held in Baku, in March 2018 that brought Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran together in a single platform.131 Although there is a considerable gap between the ambitious aims underlined through successive trilateral meetings and the results yielded, the institutionalisation of a mechanism for dialogue and cooperation among the respective countries, could be regarded as an achievement towards multilateral cooperation.

Arab Spring, the Cooling of Turkish-Iranian Relations and Reconciliation

  • 132 Yarmohammadian, et. al., ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertainty,’ p.21.
  • 133 Nabiollah Ebrahimi, ‘Iran, Turkey and the Arab Revolutions,’ Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, vol (...)

63When the revolutionary mobilisation of the population overthrew age-old dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, Iran and Turkey apparently shared similar viewpoints. However, their strategic and ideological differences unleashed new competition between the two countries. Iran had been overinvesting in order to cultivate strong ties with the dissident movements in the Middle East. The Arab Spring that swept the committed enemies of Iran aside from power both excited and emboldened Iranian leaders, who labelled the popular movements as part of the so-called Islamic awakening. On the other hand, the JDP leaders in Turkey attempted to ride on the popular upheavals both to promote its government-type as a good-working model, and to forge close ties with the ‘revolutionary’ governments. Indeed, the JDP strategy was successful to some extent in terms of drawing the interest and favour of the new elite across the region. In addition to Erdoğan’s celebrated visits to the Arab Spring countries of North Africa in September 2011, Mohammad Morsi, then the newly elected President of Egypt, Rashed al-Ghannushi, leader of the Tunisian al-Nahda movement that started to occupy a large share of power in Tunisia, Masoud Barzani, President of the KRG, and Khaled Meshal, the leader of HAMAS, alongside many foreign guests participated in the JDP congress held in September 2012.132 Growing popularity of the then prime minister Erdoğan and the JDP across the region was alarming for the Iranian elite, in whose view the rising Turkish activism in the region would discard Iranian influence. According to the Iranian assessments, the promotion of the Turkish model hinted at the unfeasibility of the Iranian alternative for the Arab Spring countries.133

  • 134 For instance see Behlul Ozkan, ‘Turkey’s Imperial Fantasy,’ The New York Times, 28 August 2014, htt (...)
  • 135 Yarmohammadian, et. al., ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertainty,’ p.22.

64In this context, the upheavals which erupted in Syria in March 2011 turned into a thorny issue between Ankara and Tehran. Additionally, contested domestic politics in Iraq preceding the American military withdrawal in December 2011, tempted the further involvement of Turkey and Iran to support rival political groups. The Iranian elite viewed the Turkish support for the Syrian and Iraqi opposition as an extension of a strategy to increase its regional influence to the detriment of Iran. Turkey’s bid for increasing its sway, particularly in the Fertile Crescent, would reduce the Iranian weight in that area because it required the removal of the Assad and Maliki governments in Syria and Iraq respectively that were allied with Iran. Accordingly, Ankara cultivated good ties with the KRG especially after 2008, and ‘exploited’ the situation in Syria to increase its regional clout. In response to the JDP strategy of riding on popular opposition movements (some critiques called it an attempt to create a regional ‘Muslim Brotherhood Belt’ led by Turkey under the guise of supporting democracy134) from Syria and Iraq to North Africa, Iran adopted a strategy to confront Turkey in Syria, and mobilised all its regional networks to stop the Turkish advances.135

  • 136 Banihashemi, ‘Understanding the AKP’s regional policy: An Iranian Perspective,’ p.116.

65In fact, Iranian policy towards the Middle East has been far more complicated than just preventing the rising Turkish influence, primarily because Turkey was not alone on the long list of its perceived adversaries or threats. Moreover, according to some Iranian critics, Turkey had returned to its conventional policy of executing its role designated by the United States, which was again simplifying a further complicated Turkish policy towards the Middle East after the Arab Spring. Nevertheless, in addition to the JDP’s ‘moral policy’ to support democratic opposition movements against the authoritarian regimes, the initial harmony between Turkey, the Western countries and Saudi Arabia at the outset of the Syrian upheavals, put Ankara and Tehran into contradicting blocs. Hence, a fierce region-wide competition resurfaced between the two states not only in Syria, but also over Iraq and the rest of the region. Thus, Turkish-Iranian relations entered a new period of competition with its strategic identity and security implications which resembled the sixteenth century Ottoman-Safavid rivalry. Both countries blamed each other for following a sectarian agenda that would further destabilise the whole Middle East. For Iran, Turkey was pursuing a ‘neo-Ottomanist strategy,’ while Turkish officials continuously blamed Iran for the ‘Shiite expansionism.’136

Syria

66Surprisingly to many people who observed the ‘staunch’ Turkish opposition to the sanctions against Iran and its support for a ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear program, the same Turkish government stopped Iranian cargo planes headed to Syria in March 2011 for allegedly breaching the terms of UN sanctions for the transfer of weapons. It reported to the UN panel for monitoring Iranian sanctions that one of the planes contained military equipment that was banned by a number of UN Security Council resolutions. Likewise, Ankara seized five Iranian TIRs suspected of carrying arms and munitions to Syria in January 2012. Meanwhile, it was reported in some media outlets that the Qods Force of Iran deployed a spy network in Turkey, some of whom were recruited from amongst Turkish citizens, in order to stage provocative attacks and collect secret information. Combined, these developments were viewed as signs of worsening Turkish-Iranian relations mainly because of the growing differences between them with regard to developments in Syria.

67The Turkish and Iranian divergence on the Syria crisis stemmed from the different understanding of the nature of the people’s protests in that country. In Iran’s assessment it was a Western and Zionist conspiracy against President Assad, however Turkey viewed the Syrian opposition as part of the region-wide trend to resist long-lasting authoritarian rules in the name of political rights. Once Turkey had failed to convince Assad to initiate structural reforms to deal with the growing opposition and violence in the country, it discarded him and promoted regime change policy in Syria. In this regard, it hosted Syrian opposition meetings, facilitated the organisation of the Syrian National Council, provided shelter to the Syrian army defectors and helped the armament of the Free Syrian Army. Iran criticised the Turkish attempts to support the opposition to serve the interests of the Western countries. Indeed, Turkey coordinated its strategy with regard to Syria with the Western states and some of the Arab states, which established a joint front called the Group of Friends of the Syrian People.

  • 137 Banihashemi, ‘Understanding the AKP’s regional policy: An Iranian Perspective,’ p.116; Ahmadi and G (...)
  • 138 Onur Burçak Belli, ‘Ankara-Tahran hattında restleşmeler,’ BBC Türkçe, 9 August 2012, https://www.bb (...)

68For a while, at the outset of the Syria crisis, the JDP government was engaged in persuading Iran to support its cause. In this regard Foreign Minister Davutoğlu paid a visit to Tehran in August 2011, just before the Turkish government cut its ties with the Assad administration. Likewise, in March 2012, PM Erdoğan landed in Iran after his return from the nuclear security conference held in Seoul, and met Supreme Leader Khamenei in Mashad. However, he failed to secure Iranian support. From the viewpoint of Iran, Turkey was acting in an opportunistic way by exploiting the crisis in Syria, blaming the Assad administration for the violation of human rights, and turning a deaf ear to the popular demands for a change of regime. Moreover, through its increasing support for the Syrian opposition such as facilitating its organisation and armament, it was directly threatening the Assad rule in that country. However, for Iran the maintenance of the Assad rule in Syria was regarded as the red-line, while the removal of Assad from power was tantamount to the weakening of Iran’s regional position.137 Moreover, some of the Iranian elite become anxious about the potential Turkish activities, similar to its role in Syria, to instigate and promote opposition to the Iranian regime. Hence, the Biennial Iranian Studies Conference that was held in Istanbul in August 2012 was smeared by the Kayhan news headline allegedly for being an opposition meeting that effectively deterred Iranian scholars from attending the event.138

69The contradictory positions of the two states with respect to the Syrian crisis combined with the Turkish-Iranian row over the deployment of the American radar in Malatya, unleashed the aforementioned rhetorical brawl between the Iranian and Turkish elite. Despite the exchanges of fierce rhetorical remarks, mutual accusations and claims of overall confrontation between Ankara and Tehran, the two states have not positioned themselves directly against each other. Moreover, there were several instances of cooperation and the search for a common understanding related to regional developments, especially on Syria.

70Prior to his visit to Tehran in January 2012, the then foreign minister Davutoğlu gave a public warning against the ‘growing signs of sectarian-based tensions.’ In order to allay Iranian concerns, Davutoğlu confirmed his government’s position that Turkey had never considered Iran as a threat, and assured Iran there would be no attack on that country from Turkey. In the same vein, Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi assured his Turkish collocutors in August 2012, to ignore the words of any Iranian officials other than the Supreme leader, President, and Foreign Minister, who represented the official policy of Tehran. Meanwhile, Turkey arranged the release of some Iranian citizens, arguably IRGC members, held captive by the Free Syrian Army on Syrian soil. Similarly, Iran facilitated the release of two Turkish journalists kidnapped in Syria in March 2012.

  • 139 Laure Rozen, ‘Turkey’s Erdoğan meets Iran’s Ahmadinejad on Syria,’ the Back-Channel, 16 October 201 (...)

71In April 2012, Turkey hosted the second meeting of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People, which excluded Iran. The Iranian government also organised an alternative international conference with the participation of representatives from twenty-nine countries in August 2012, but did not invite Turkey. Despite the different trajectories adopted by Ankara and Tehran related to the Syria crisis, the two states continued to search for a common platform to address that issue. Upon the proposal of the then Egyptian president, Mohammad Morsi, foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran and Egypt met in Cairo in September 2012. The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia was also invited, but he abstained from joining the meeting. The second and third rounds of the meetings of the foreign ministers was held on the sidelines of international conferences, respectively in New York in late September, and Islamabad in November 2012. On the sidelines of the OIC Summit held in Cairo in February 2013, the Turkish, Iranian and Egyptian presidents came together and called for the end of the bloodshed and conflict in Syria. At the same line, in his meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Baku in October 2012 on the sidelines of the ECO summit, PM Erdoğan proposed the formation of three alternating trilateral negotiations that would include Turkey, Iran, Egypt; Turkey, Iran and Russia; and Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia that would discuss the resolution for the Syria conflict.139 However, the proposed trilateral negotiations did not materialise until late 2016.

72The Turkish-Iranian disagreements on Syria mainly revolved around two issues. The first was the fate of Bashar al-Assad. According to the Iranian view, Assad was the legitimate president of Syria and no one had the right to ask, or compel his withdrawal, which was regarded as interference in the internal affairs of that country. Unlike Iran, Turkey claimed that Assad had lost his legitimacy because he used lethal violence against people without discriminating between armed insurgents and civilians. Hence, Assad should not be allowed to remain in power, even for a period of transition, as envisaged by the Geneva Conference of June 2012. The second was that Iran called most of the opposition movements extremists and terrorists who had penetrated the country as part of a conspiracy that was fomented by the United States and Israel. Iran supported Assad’s struggle against the opposition ostensibly as a fight against terrorism, or resistance to international conspiracies. For that reason, Iran argued that a practical solution to the crisis necessitated the prevention of the flow of weapons, funds and foreign fighters to Syria. Contrary to Iran, Turkey acknowledged the presence of some extremist groups fighting against the Assad regime, but asked to separate them from the legitimate and moderate opposition groups. In this respect, some of the Iranian elite blamed Turkey for either supporting or allowing activities of those extremist groups. In return, Turkey became increasingly discomforted by the Iranian mobilisation of Shiite fighters from different countries to fight in Syria.

  • 140 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘Federalism in Syria, PYD and Ambivalent Position of Iran,’ ORSAM Foreign Policy An (...)

73Turkey also had some misgivings about Iran’s relations with the PYD (Democratic Union Party), the Syrian offshoot of PKK, in the theatre of Syria. The PYD had built some internal and external alliances with various actors in the name of protecting the Syrian people from extremist violence. Its armed wing, the YPG, consolidated its grip over the mainly Kurdish populated northern towns of Syria, and built autonomous ‘canton administrations’, which later turned into the de facto ‘Democratic Federation of Rojava.’ While Turkey was coordinating its activities in the north of Syria with the Kurdish National Council, a front organisation of pro-Barzani parties, Iran relied on its close relations with the PUK, and its alleged relationship with the PKK, that made for burgeoning relations between Iran and the PYD. Indeed, there was an apparent sympathy in the Iranian media for the PYD. It was then claimed that Iran had brokered an implicit agreement between the PYD and the Assad administration, which handed over the north of Syria to PYD/YPG control in return for the latter’s rejection of participation in the Syrian opposition, and to stand against the mounting Turkish influence in the area.140

74Meanwhile, by the late 2014, extremist ISIS militants took over most of the territories previously held by the Free Syrian Army and the Nusra Front, surrounding most of the southern borders of Turkey. From then on, ISIS fired rockets onto Turkish towns across the border. Kilis town especially, close to the border, was badly damaged by the ISIS rockets. In addition, the International Coalition led by the United States, established to fight ISIS in September 2014, started to provide military assistance to the YPG forces. The PYD/YPG that had previously controlled three ‘cantons’, actually Kurdish enclaves, in the north of Syria since the regime forces’ withdrawal in July 2012, established a front organization called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that included a number of Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrian and Arab ‘parties.’ Ensuring the military support of the International Coalition, i.e. the United States, the PYD/SDF forces swept ISIS from most of the territories that it had captured earlier, and thereby expanded the territories under their control. The expansion of the PYD seized territories stretching from Hasekeh to Afrin on the southern flanks of Turkey, amplified the Turkish government’s anxieties with the establishment of a ‘terror corridor’ as a cordon cutting Turkish access to the Arab peoples, which triggered its military response.

75The military raids of the Turkish forces inside Syria targeting both the PYD/YPG and ISIS positions caused more anxiety on the part of Iran. Turkey justified its incursions through the presence of terrorist groups, both the PYD/YPG and ISIS, across the border. Besides occasional air strikes and artillery shelling, the Turkish armed forces staged two major operations, in partnership with some Syrian militia affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. Operation Euphrates Shield which began in August 2016 was aimed at sweeping ISIS forces away from an area between the towns of Jarabulus and Azez, adjacent to the Turkish border. The second major operation, code name Olive Branch, targeted the PYD controlled Afrin canton in January 2018 and swept the PYD/YPG forces more than 40 kilometres away from the border.

  • 141 ‘Respect to States Sovereignty Needed in Anti-Terror Campaign,’ Islamic Republic News Agency, 25 Ju (...)
  • 142 ‘Senior Lawmaker: Turkey Seeking to Suppress PKK on War-on-ISIL Pretext,’ FNA, 14 August 2015, http (...)

76The Iranian officials watched the Turkish military raids inside Syria apprehensively, and labelled them an attempt to create a buffer zone in that area. In response to the Turkish air raids against ISIS targets in July 2015, the spokeswoman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Marzieh Afkham called for effective cooperation on anti-terrorism measures and respect for the sovereignty of the Syrian government.141 Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned, the ‘creation of a buffer zone inside Syria is a violation of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.’ Likewise, the hardline members of the Iranian parliament, including Hossein Naqavi and Nozar Shafiyee, blamed Turkey for supporting ISIS and then using it as pretext to fight the PKK and create a buffer zone in the north of Syria.142

  • 143 Sinkaya, ‘Federalism in Syria, PYD and Ambivalent Position of Iran.’

77The insistence of the PYD on building an autonomous region in Syria, and the development of close relations between the PYD and the United States, however, lessened the Iranian opposition to the Turkish military operations. Soon after the rise of debates on the likelihood of a federal administration for the future of Syria in early 2016, the then prime minister Davutoğlu visited Tehran, where he told his Iranian interlocutors that they ‘should not leave the fate of the region to extra-territorial powers.’ In a similar vein, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who met his Iranian counterpart M. Cevad Zarif in Istanbul on March 19, lashed out the PYD’s declaration of a federal region, and said, ‘They want to divide Syria. With Iran, we support the territorial integrity of Syria’. Indeed, Operation Euphrates Shield began soon after the exchange of visits of the Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers in August 2016.143

  • 144 ‘Iran shows reaction to Turkeys troops deployment in Syria,’ Islamic Invitation Turkey, 25 August 2 (...)
  • 145 ‘Iran expresses concern over Turkey military operation in Syria,’ IRI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (...)
  • 146 ‘Iran ‘concerned’ by Turkish assault on northern Syria,’ Al-Monitor, 22 January 2018, https://www.a (...)

78In response to Operation Euphrates Shield, the spokesman of Iranian foreign ministry, Bahram Ghasemi argued that the fight against terrorist groups in Syrian territories, should take place in coordination with Damascus.144 His criticisms against the Turkish military deployment continued. In a press conference, he stated that the adoption of any approach that defied the political authority of a country’s central government was not acceptable. He added that the continuation of a Turkish military presence on Syrian soil would further complicate the situation.145 Turkey deepened its military involvement in Syria through Operation Olive Branch in January 2018. Some militia forces affiliated to Iran, then supplied the YPG in Afrin and mobilised to stand against the Turkish military march. The Spokesman of the Iranian foreign ministry reiterated his country’s concerns about the Turkish military activities, the necessity of respecting the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Syria, and asked for a quick end to the military operations.146

  • 147 Mahan Abedin, ‘Why Iran cautiously supports Turkey’s Operation in Afrin,’ Middle East Eye, 31 Janua (...)

79Although Iran was highly concerned with the Turkish military incursions, its response was relatively moderate. Mahan Abedin, assessed the Iranian government’s position as ‘cautiously supportive’ towards the operation.147 Indeed, Ghasemi, said that his government expected ‘Turkey to remain committed to the Astana peace talks.’ Turkey and Iran, along with Russia achieved a good level of coordination in decreasing military clashes and promoting political solutions to the Syria crisis. Hence, Iran has not dared to endanger the process by antagonising Turkey. Additionally, Iran has also shared some of the Turkish concerns about the empowerment of the PKK affiliated forces in Syria. Although Iran and the Assad administration courted the PYD for a while for various purposes, the growing relationship between the PYD and the United States has turned into a source of profound concern for Tehran. American officials, especially after Donald Trump came to power, have publicly stated on several occasions that the primary aim for their military presence in Syria was to counter Iranian influence. Iran subsequently further valued its cooperation and coordination with Turkey, which paved the way for the Astana process.

Astana Process

  • 148 Ahmadi and Ghorbani, ‘The Impact of Syrian Crisis on Iran-Turkey Relations.’

80Turkey’s approach towards Syria which was based on the overthrow of the Assad administration, reached a stalemate by late 2014. Firstly, the callous activities of some extremist groups, ostensibly part of the Syrian opposition, led to domestic and international criticism of Turkish support for the opposition. Secondly, the US refusal to take military action against the Assad regime, even after its use of chemical weapons in August 2013, disappointed Turkey. Consequently, the Geneva Conference which had envisaged the establishment of a transitional regime in Syria could not proceed.148 In the meantime, the initial partnership between Turkey and Saudi Arabia faded away, after the latter’s support for the Sisi coup in Egypt. As a result, the Syrian opposition fragmented into further smaller groups with different patrons, and lost some of their strongholds. Moreover, the PYD consolidated its authority in the northern Kurdish ‘cantons,’ while the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq turned into a serious threat to Turkish interests. Combined with the aforementioned developments, the Turkish government was encouraged to search for regional collaborations for the resolution of the Syria crisis. On the other hand, the military involvement of Russia in the Syrian war theatre to support the Assad regime, gradually marginalised Iran’s position in Syria. Both the rise of ISIS, and the growing relations between the PYD and the United States also emerged as major challenges to Iran. The spectre of sectarianism across the region also tarnished Iran’s image across the Middle East. Against this background, the Iranian government welcomed the trilateral negotiations between Iran, Russia and Turkey, a mechanism that was founded in Moscow in December 2016.

81In accordance with the Moscow Declaration of December 2016, representatives of the Syrian opposition and the Assad administration, along with Iranian, Russian and Turkish delegations met in Astana. By 2019, eleven rounds of meetings had been held at expert level. There have been two tracks within the framework of the Astana process. The first was the establishment of the de-escalation zones, which were expected to provide a comprehensive cease-fire between the belligerents. In due process, Iran, Russia and Turkey were recognised as the guarantors of de-escalation, and formed a joint monitoring body to enforce the ceasefire in the de-escalation zones. Additionally, they agreed the deployment of Iranian, Turkish and Russian troops in Syria to observe the conditions and violations of the cease-fire. The second track of the process has been directed to find a political, ‘Syrian solution’ to the crisis. In this respect the parties have been engaged in forming a specific committee consisting of pro-Assad and pro-opposition figures to draft the future constitution of the country and the transition process.

  • 149 ‘At the end of Ankara Summit; Iran, Russia, Turkey Presidents’ joint statement,’ IRI Presidency, 4 (...)

82Besides the expert-level meetings, leaders of the respective countries held four summits. The first summit was convened in Sochi on November 22, 2017. In the aftermath of the summit, the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that consisted of the representatives of opposition and the Assad administration, was held in Sochi, in January 2018, when the participants agreed to form a constitutional committee. The second summit of the Astana process was held in Ankara on April 4, 2018. At the end of the Ankara summit, the Presidents issued a joint statement. It is highlighted that ‘the Astana format’ was the only effective international initiative which helped to reduce violence across Syria. Leaders also confirmed their ‘commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity, territorial integrity and non-sectarian character of Syria.’ In reaction to the US military support for the YPG under the guise of the SDF, the Presidents stated, ‘they rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combatting terrorism and expressed their determination to stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the national security of neighbouring countries.’149

83The third tripartite summit was convened in Tehran on September 7, 2018. The issue of Idlib was the burning question in the agenda of Tehran Summit. The Pro-Assad forces’ encirclement of Idlib, an opposition-held northwestern provincial capital of Syria, raised concerns in Turkey and some Western countries for a new round of violence close to Turkish-Syrian border and latent effects of the flight of hundreds of thousands of civilians toward Turkey. The presence of Al-Nusra forces along with some extremist militias in the same area made the question more complicated. Based upon the negotiations between the parties in Tehran, Russia and Turkey signed a bilateral agreement in Sochi, in October 2018, to preserve stability and a ceasefire around Idlib.150 Although the bilateral agreement between Turkey and Russia, which apparently sidelined Iran, raised some concerns in Tehran, the Iranian government remained committed to the Astana process.

84At the fourth summit held in Sochi on February 14, 2019, a draft list of the prospective members of the constitutional committee was on the agenda. Additionally, the three Presidents addressed a wide range of topics from the maintenance of a ceasefire, to the withdrawal of American troops from the northeastern part of Syria, to the return of Syrian refugees, to the promotion of a political solution to the crisis on the principle that the Syrians would decide their own future.

  • 151 Verda Özer, ‘Güvenli bölge bizim kontrolümüzde olmalı,’ Milliyet, 16 February 2019. http://www.mill (...)

85Although they repeatedly stated their commitment to territorial integrity of Syria and the maintenance of the Astana process, the Iranian and Turkish divergence and mutual misgivings have remained. For instance, the Iranian government did not publicly protest or censure the Turkish military troop deployment inside the Syrian territories. However, as stated by Erdoğan, their declarations and statements hinted Iran’s anxiety about the presence of Turkish troops in Syria.151 Indeed, in his remarks at the joint press conference held subsequent to the fourth trilateral summit in Sochi, Iranian President Rouhani highlighted the ‘temporariness’ of the military presence of the guarantor states in Syria. He reiterated the Iranian position that sovereignty of the Syrian government should be restored ‘all over the country’, which implicitly included Turkish military operation zones alongside the northeastern part controlled by the US-PYD forces and Idlib. Iran’s promotion and support for Assad’s position disguised as support for a legitimate central government, and its call for withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria, proved the continuing Iranian discomfort and anxieties related to the Turkish military presence in that country. In return, Turkish officials have frequently hinted at their discomfort with Iranian activities in Syria.

Iraq

86Turkey and Iran shared similar concerns with regard to the American intervention in Iraq in 2003, which resulted in some sort of understanding between Tehran and Ankara as illustrated by several rounds of meetings of Iraq’s neighbours. Soon after the American occupation, Iranian and Turkish interests fundamentally diverged with regard to the future of Iraq. Although they both continued to be anxious about a potential Kurdish independent statehood in the north of Iraq, Iran was equally disturbed by a potential Turkish military deployment in Iraq.152 Several rounds of discussions for a Turkish troop deployment in Iraq between the United States and Turkey did not yield effective outcomes. Conversely, American forces in Iraq severely constrained the Turkish military and intelligence activities in the north of Iraq

  • 153 Yarmohammadian, et. al., ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertainty,’ p.20.
  • 154 Another pillar of the competition between Ankara and Tehran was over ensuring the sympathy of the I (...)

87In the meantime, Turkey developed intimate bonds with the Iraqi Sunnis and clarified its position for the establishment of a unitary regime and inclusive government in Baghdad. It was eager to ensure a strong representation of the Sunnis in the new regime. This attempt, however, was effectively understood by Iranians as its opposition to the Shiite dominated government, partially engineered by Iran.153 Indeed Turkey was concerned about the consolidation of sectarian politics and a growing Iranian influence in Iraq that would make it subservient to the interests of Iran.154

88Despite their differences, Ankara and Tehran supported the transition of power to the Iraqi authorities. For a while, Turkey appeased the Nuri Maliki government in Baghdad so that they agreed on the establishment of High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council in 2008. The Turkish government was then engaged in developing close ties with the Iraqi Shiites as well. However, the Turkish support for al-Iraqiya list led by Iyad Allawi in the parliamentary elections in 2010 created some disputes in Ankara-Baghdad relations. Although al-Iraqiya list won the election with a slight majority, Maliki succeeded in leading the next government by ensuring Iranian support, which strained Turkish-Iraqi relations. In the meantime, Turkey deepened its relationship with the KRG to the dismay of the Maliki government and Iran.

89In late 2011, the confrontation between the JDP and Maliki governments reached its zenith, when the latter ordered the arrest of Tareq al-Hashemi, the Sunni Vice-President, alongside a number of respected Sunni ministers. Turkey provided refuge to al-Hashemi and condemned the Maliki government for pursuing a sectarian agenda. Due to the Iranian backing of Maliki, the Iraqi-Turkish row easily turned into Turkish-Iranian rivalry. In late 2012, Iraqi opposition groups staged meetings protesting the Maliki government, in which some activists carried placards favouring Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan. Combined with the JDP government’s apparent support for the Iraqi opposition and the public sympathy of some Iraqis for Erdoğan highlighted Iraqi and Iranian concerns with potential Turkish activities in the region.155 To complicate the picture further, Turkey signed a landmark energy deal with the KRG, which would facilitate its export of oil to international markets. However, because of the ongoing dispute between Baghdad and Erbil over the utilisation of the oil and gas reserves in the north of Iraq, the Maliki government reacted strongly against the deal. While the Erdoğan-Maliki brawl was going on, ISIS suddenly seized Mosul, attacked the Turkish consulate and took the diplomats and staff hostages in June 2014. Soon afterwards, it quickly marched towards Baghdad. Turkey blamed Maliki for fuelling sectarianism, which prepared the ground for the rise of ISIS. Turkish-Iraqi relations were normalised only after Haider al-Abadi replaced Maliki as the new prime minister of Iraq in September 2014.

  • 156 ‘Sectarianism serves as an excuse for interventions in the Islamic World,’ Presidency of the Republ (...)

90In an attempt to reverse the sectarianism that haunted the country, Abadi was occupied with reaching a compromise with the Sunni leaders of the country and the KRG. He paid an official visit to Ankara in December 2014 and restored Turkish-Iraqi relations. However, the Turkish military activities in the north of Iraq soon turned into a new row in bilateral relations. As part of the global campaign against ISIS, the Turkish armed forces started to train the Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi forces. In December 2014, Ankara and Baghdad reached a conciliation for the establishment of a military base in the town of Bashiqa, near Mosul, as part of the joint efforts to train the Sunni fighters Hashd al-Watani (National Mobilisation Forces aka Ninewa Guards), and the Kurdish forces. However, reinforcements of Turkish troops in Bashiqa in late 2015, drew criticism from the Iraqi government, which was arguably, encouraged by Tehran. When Abadi asked Turkey to withdraw its troops from Iraq, ahead of the expected military operation to liberate Mosul from ISIS control in October 2016, President Erdoğan reacted angrily, confronted Abadi, and stated, ‘we will go our own way, everyone should know this.’156

  • 157 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘The Mosul Operation and Iran,’ ORSAM Foreign Policy Analysis, 27 October 2016, htt (...)

91Against this background, the Iranian government stood with Abadi. President Rouhani implicitly criticised Turkish activities in the north of Iraq as a ‘dangerous intervention’ that was not coordinated with the central government in Iraq. Indeed, as Ali Akbar Velayeti stated, for Iran, ‘Iraq is more important than all of other Arab countries [including Syria].’ Turkish military activities in Iraq were considered by Tehran to be detrimental to the sovereignty of the Baghdad government. Considering the Turkish nationalists’ claims over Mosul and Kirkuk, Iran was especially worried over the Turkish military deployment so close to that area.157

  • 158 ‘Turkey Is No Longer a Country That Turns the Other Cheek When It Is Slapped On One Cheek,’ Preside (...)

92Meanwhile, the Iraqi government mobilised volunteers to fight ISIS, which eventually turned into Hashd al-Shaabi (the Popular Mobilisation Forces, PMF), promoted by the Shiite religious leaders. The Iraqi government also employed Iranian military advisors to train and lead the operations of the PMF, which became effective in reversing the advancement of ISIS and liberating some of the towns it had seized. Subsequently, the PMF was blamed by some critics for sectarian violence discriminating against the Sunni people of the liberated towns, and human rights violations. When the Iraqi forces turned north to liberate Mosul, the Turkish government publicly opposed the involvement of the PMF militias in the prospective operation. Turkey’s anxiety with the PMF mainly derived from two elements. Firstly, considering the critics against the sectarian actions of the militia in previous cases, the JDP government was critical of the employment of such a force for the liberation of Mosul, mostly populated by Sunni people. Hence, a potential sectarian contention might worsen the situation around the city, and culminate in a change of the demographic structure. For that reason, Turkish officials repeatedly called for preservation of the ethnic demographic structure of the province. Secondly, Turkey viewed that organisation as an instrument utilised by Iran to expand and consolidate its influence in the Sunni regions of Iraq. Although Hashd al-Shaabi was nominally subordinated to the Chief Commander of the Iraqi Armed Forces, in reality it consisted of numerous autonomous militia groups, some of whom had direct affinities with Iran. Hence, on an occasion in April 2017, President Erdoğan called the PMF a terrorist organisation. In the same speech, he drew attention to the links of Hashd al-Shaabi, and said, ‘Iran’s Persian expansionism has started to cause quite a headache.’158 Unlike Turkey, the Iranian government encouraged and supported the PMF’s participation in future operations and blamed Turkey for undermining the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.

93After long debates between the relevant parties and partly because of the pressure from America, the PMF militia was barred from taking an active role in the battle of Mosul between October 2016 and July 2017. Iraqi observation of the Turkish concerns throughout the operation and a series of diplomatic exchanges, eased the tension between Ankara and Baghdad. Meanwhile, Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, designated September 25, 2017 as the date for the referendum for independence of the KRG. This decision sparked harsh reactions from both Baghdad and neighbouring capitals Tehran and Ankara, and compelled the three countries to set their differences aside and develop a joint position to prevent the independence of the KRG.

  • 159 ‘Iraq, Iran, Turkey release statement on KRG referendum plan,’ MEHR News Agency, 21 September 2017, (...)

94The referendum issue set the agenda of the visit of General Bagheri, the top Iranian commander, to Ankara in August 2017. Following this, the foreign ministers of Iraq, Iran and Turkey held a trilateral meeting in New York on September 20, 2017 to discuss the referendum plan of the KRG. At the end of the meeting they issued a joint statement. The ministers, through the joint statement, expressed their concerns with regard to the planned independence referendum by the KRG that would put Iraq’s hard-earned gains against ISIS at great risk. It was also argued that the planned referendum was ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘run[ned] the risk of provoking new conflicts in the region, that [would] prove difficult to contain.’ Consequently, they reaffirmed their strong commitment to the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq, stressed their unequivocal opposition to the referendum and urged the KRG leadership to refrain from holding the referendum.159 Despite the warnings and threats from neighbouring countries to compel Erbil to cancel the referendum, which none of the international actors except Israel backed, the KRG held it on the planned day, and the majority of the Kurdish electorates voted for independence.

  • 160 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘Turkish-Iranian Rapprochement and President Erdogan’s visit to Tehran,’ ORSAM Fore (...)

95During Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran in October 2017, the Turkish and Iranian leaders reiterated their common opposition to the referendum and their commitment to the preservation of Iraq’s territorial integrity. They offered the KRG leaders a choice between declaring the referendum null and void, or facing isolation and the joint actions of Turkey and Iran to protect ‘political borders.’ Both countries closed their borders and airspaces to the KRG, and decided to support the Iraqi government’s measures to protect its territorial integrity and political unity. Moreover, Iraq, Iran and Turkey agreed to the establishment of a consultation mechanism between themselves for the coordination of their sanctions against the KRG.160 Soon after, the Iraqi armed forces staged major operations in order to take over control of Kirkuk and other disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil in October 2017, fully backed by Turkey and Iran. Eventually, the KRG was forced to declare the suspension of the referendum results.

96Consequently, the process of state building in Iraq subsequent to the American occupation tempted Iranian and Turkish interests and interference, which turned into a rivalry between Ankara and Tehran. Both countries competed to assure their friendship to the central government in Baghdad and other influential actors in Iraqi politics. They even competed to influence Iraqi Kurdish leaders. However, the age-old security anxieties of Turkey and Iran that have derived from the potential independence of a Kurdish state led them to put their differences and competition aside, and to engage in joint efforts for the containment of the shared threat.

Notes

32 For Turkish Middle East policy under the JDP see Şaban Kardaş, ‘Turkey Redrawing the Middle East Map or Building Sandcastles,’ Middle East Policy, vol.17, no.1 (2010); Meliha Altunışık and Lenore Martin, ‘Making Sense of Turkish Foreign Policy in the Middle East,’ Turkish Studies, vol.12, no.4 (2011); Nuri Yeşilyurt and Atay Akdevelioğlu, ‘Turkey’s Middle East Policy under the JDP Rule,’ Turkish Yearbook of International Relations, vol.40, (2009); Meliha B. Altunışık, “Worldviews and Turkish Foreign Policy in the Middle East,” New Perspectives on Turkey, vol. 40, (2009).

33 Mustafa Aydın and Damla Aras, ‘Political Conditionality of Economic Relations between Paternalist States: Turkey’s Interaction with Iran, Iraq and Syria,’ Arab Studies Quarterly, vol.27, no.1-2 (2005); Bülent Aras and Rabia K. Polat, ‘From Conflict to Cooperation: Desecuritization of Turkey’s Relations with Syria and Iran,’ Security Dialogue, vol.39, no. 5, 2008, p.495-515. See also Rahmat Hajimineh, ‘Analyzing the Turkish Iranian Relations from the Copenhagen School’s Point of View,’ Discourse: An Iranian Quarterly, vol.10, no.3-4, (2012); Çağla Lüleci-Sula, ‘Domestic Threats and Foreign Policy Agenda: A security perspective on Turkey’s Iran policy,’ British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 2018.

34 M. Ebrahimi, K. Yusoff, M.M.S. Jalali, ‘Economic, Political, and Strategic issues in Iran-Turkey Relations, 2002-2015,’ Contemporary Review of Middle East, vol 4, no, 1, 2017, p.70.

35 F. Stephen Larrabee and Alireza Nader, Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East, Rand Corporation, 2013, p.15.

36 Leader Meets with Turkish President,’ Khamenei.ir, 14 February 2011, http://english.khamenei.ir/news/1418/Leader-Meets-with-Turkish-President (accessed on 5 February 2019).

37 Hossein Yarmohammadian, A. Omidi, S. Ebrahimi, ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertainty,’ The Quarterly Journal of Political Studies of Islamic World, vol 6, no.1 (2017), p.20.

38 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals…, pp.29, 36.

39 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals …, p.32, Tolga Demiryol, ‘The Limits to Cooperation between Rivals: Turkish-Iranian relations since 2002,’ Ortadoğu Etütleri, vol.4, no.2 (2003) p.121-22. See also Özden Zeynep Oktav, ‘Changing Security Perceptions in Turkish-Iranian Relations,’ Perceptions, 2004 pp. 103-117; Bayram Sinkaya, ‘The Kurdish Question in Iran and its effects on Iran-Turkey Relations,’ British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, vol.45, no.5, 2018.

40 ‘Hatemi Türkiye Ziyareti Erteledi,’ Hürriyet, 26 September 2004, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/hatemi-turkiye-ziyaretini-erteledi-38650197 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

41 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals …, p.33.

42 ‘There is no difference between Terrorist Organization PKK and PJAK, Mohtaj,’ Turkishpress, 14 April 2008, http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:3SglkRnmjNMJ:www.turkishpress.com/news/225672/+&cd=1&hl=fr&ct=clnk&gl=tr&client=firefox-b-d (accessed on 5 February 2019). The 11th High Security Committee meeting had held in Tehran in February 2006, and 12th meeting of High Security Committee held in Ankara, in April 2008.

43 ‘İran’la ortak operasyon,’ Hürriyet, 6 June 2008, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/iran-la-ortak-operasyon-9111150 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

44 ‘İran sınır ötesine soğuk,’ Haberler.com, 29 October 2007, https://www.haberler.com/iran-sinir-otesine-soguk-haberi/ (accessed on 5 February 2019); ‘Mottaki: US, Israel supporting PKK,’ Jerusalem Post, 28 October 2007, https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Mottaki-US-Israel-supporting-PKK (accessed on 5 February 2019).

45 ‘Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Combating Drug Smuggling, Organized Crime and Terrorism, 14 August 2008,’ Resmi Gazete, http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2011/05/20110528M1-9-1.pdf (accessed on 5 February 2019).

46 Mustafa Kibaroğlu and Barış Çağlar, ‘Implications of a Nuclear Iran for Turkey’ Middle East Policy, vol.15, no.4 (2008); Aylin Gürzel, ‘Turkey’s Role in Defusing the Iranian nuclear issue,’ The Washington Quarterly, vol.35, no.3, (2012).

47 ʻAnıtkabir’i istemedi ‘çalışma ziyareti’ oldu,ʼ Hürriyet, 2 August 2008, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/anitkabir-i-istemedi-calisma-ziyareti-oldu-9568694 (accessed on 5 February 2019). Although Ahmadinejad’s visit was directed to Istanbul instead of Ankara arguably due to the protocol rules in 2008, that rule had not been implemented in the previous visits of Turkish and Iranian presidents to each other. When former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani paid official visits to Turkey in 1991 and 1996, he was not asked to pay homage to the mausoleum of Kemal Atatürk. Likewise, that protocol rule was not observed in later visits between Turkey and Iran.

48 ‘Ahmedinejad: Sultanahmet’te namaz büyük siyasi olay,’ Deutsche Welle Türkçe, 16 August 2008, https://www.dw.com/tr/ahmedinejad-sultanahmette-namaz-büyük-siyasi-olay/a-3567014 (accessed on 5 February 2019); Atay Akdevelioğlu, ‘Ahmedinejad’ın İstanbul Ziyareti ışığında Türkiye-İran İlişkileri,’ Porttakal.com, 19 August 2008, http://www.porttakal.com/haber_yazdir.php?detayID=84984 (accessed on 18 February 2012).

49 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘Başbakan Erdoğan’ın Tahran Ziyaretinin Sonuçları ve Türkiye-İran İlişkilerinin Sınırları,’ Ortadoğu Analiz, vol.1, no.11, 2009, p.8-25.

50 ‘Iran Exclusive,’ Abdullahgul.gen.tr, http://www.abdullahgul.gen.tr/pages/visits/iran-exclusive/tehran (accessed on 5 February 2019).

51 Mirghasem Banihashemi, ‘Understanding the AKP’s regional policy: An Iranian Perspective,’ Discourse: An Iranian Quarterly, vol.10, no.3-4, 2012, p.114.

52 Dışişleri Bakanı Sn. Ahmet Davutoğlu’nun İran Dışişleri Bakanı Ali Ekber Salihi ile Ortak Basın Toplantısı, 5 Ocak 2012, Tahran,’ TC Dışişleri Bakanlığı, 5 Ocak 2012, http://www.mfa.gov.tr/disisleri-bakani-davutoglu-yeni-yilda-ilk-yurtdisi-ziyaretini-irana-gerceklestirdi.tr.mfa (accessed on 5 February 2019); ‘Erdoğan İran televizyonuna konuştu,’ Milliyet, 30 March 2012, http://www.milliyet.com.tr/erdogan-iran-televizyonuna-konustu-siyaset-1521937/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

53 Hamid Ahmadi, Fahimeh Ghorbani, ‘The Impact of Syrian Crisis on Iran-Turkey Relations,’ Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, vol.4, no.1, 2014, p.81. https://www.haberler.com/iran-cumhurbaskani-ahmedinejad-konya-ya-gelmiyor-4175554-haberi/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

54 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘The ‘Fall’ of Turkey-Iran Relations,’ ORSAM Foreign Policy Analysis, 20 September 2011.

55 Atilla Sandıklı, ‘Şemdinli’de Ne Oldu?’ BİLGESAM, 29 September 2012, http://www.bilgesam.org/incele/1204/-semdinli%27de-ne-oldu-/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

56 Larrabee and Nader, Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East, p.11.

57 Semih İdiz, ‘Turkey Changes course on Syria,’ Al-Monitor, 21 December 2012, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/turkey-iran-relations-deteriorat.html (accessed on 5 February 2019).

58 ‘Erdoğan: Böyle bir dini lider olabilir mi?, Sabah, 13 October 2014, https://www.sabah.com.tr/webtv/turkiye/erdogan-boyle-bir-dini-lider-olabilir-mi (accessed on 5 February 2019).

59 ‘Erdoğan: Tahammül etmek mümkün değil,’ Milliyet, 26 March 2015, http://www.milliyet.com.tr/erdogan-dan-flas-aciklamalar-siyaset-2034645/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

60 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘Iran and Turkey Relations after the Nuclear Deal: A Case for Compartmentalization,’ Ortadoğu Etütleri, vol.8, no.1 (2016), p.90-95. http://hdl.handle.net/123456789/722.

61 Hossein Yarmohammadian, A. Omidi, S. Ebrahimi, ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertainty,’ The Quarterly Journal of Political Studies of Islamic World, vol 6, no.1 (2017), p.24.

62 ‘Türkiye ve İran’dan terör örgütlerine karşı ‘ortak operasyon’ kararı,’ NTV, 20 November 2018, https://www.ntv.com.tr/turkiye/turkiye-ve-irandan-teror-orgutlerine-karsi-ortak-operasyon-karari,DsQNSPcbgUW1dHi7_bnjhQ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

63 ‘Erdoğan: ABD gibi İran da stratejik ortağımız,’ CNNTurk, 25 July 2018, https://www.cnnturk.com/video/turkiye/erdogan-abd-gibi-iran-da-stratejik-ortagimiz (accessed on 5 February 2019).

64 ‘President at the meeting of High Council of Iran-Turkey Strategic Cooperation,’ IRI Presidency, 20 December 2018, http://www.isrjournals.com/en/asia-a-eurasia/829-iran-turkey-economic-ties-prospects-for-improvement.html (accessed on 5 February 2019). Opens on homepage

65 Mustafa Kutlay, ‘Economy as the Practical Hand of ‘New Turkish Foreign Policy’: A Political Economy Explanation,’ Insight Turkey 13, No. 1 (2011).

66 Nader Habibi, ‘Turkey and Iran: Growing Economic Relations despite Western Sanctions,’ Brandeis University Crown Center for MES, Middle East Brief, no.62, May 2012.

67 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals…, p.52-53.

68 ‘Ege ve İran güçlerini yatırım için birleştirdi,’ Izmir FX, http://izmirfx.mekan360.com/haberler_1589,22,4-izmir-ekonomi-news-ege-ve-iran,guclerini-yatirim-icin-birlestirdi.html (accessed on 5 February 2019).

69 ‘Ekonomik-Ticari İlişkiler,’ Turkish Embassy in Tehran, 18 June 2017, http://tahran.be.mfa.gov.tr/Mission/ShowInfoNote/331968 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

70 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals…, p. 51; Habibi, ‘Turkey and Iran: Growing Economic Relations Despite Western Sanctions,’ p.7.

71 Ambargo Sonrası İran Ekonomik ve Ticari Etki Analizi, DEİK-TİM, June 2016, https://www.deik.org.tr/uploads/ambargo_sonrasi_iran_ekonomik_ve_ticari_etki_analizi.pdf, (accessed on 5 February 2019), p.21.

72 Economy and Foreign Trade Report 2016, TIM (Turkish Exporters Assembly), 2017, http://www.tim.org.tr/files/downloads/Reports/2016_Economy_Foreign%20Trade_Report.pdf, (accessed on 5 February 2019), p.67, 108.

73 In that particular year, Turkey exported around $10 billion in return for its imports that realised around $12 billion. A considerable part of that export ($6 billion-worth) consisted of precious materials and gold. Ambargo Sonrası İran Ekonomik ve Ticari Etki Analizi, p.17.

74 Average annual OPEC crude oil price from 1960 to 2018 (in U.S. dollars per barrel),’ Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/262858/change-in-opec-crude-oil-prices-since-1960/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

75 Economy and Foreign Trade Report 2016, p.67.

76 Actually, the two countries have also worked together on electricity production and transportation. The energy ministries of the two countries signed a protocol in August 2007 that envisaged the construction of power plants in Iran by Turkish companies, the connection of power networks between the two countries, and the Turkish purchase of electricity from Iran at amount of 6 billion KWh per year. The agreement actually intended to supply some border towns on the Turkish side through Iranian power networks. However, the bulk of Turkish-Iranian energy relations has been dominated by gas and oil. ‘Türkiye ile İran elektrikte işbirliği yapacak,’ Hürriyet, 10 April 2008, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/turkiye-ile-iran-elektrikte-isbirligi-yapacak-8665985 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

77 Gawdat Bahgat, ‘Iran-Turkey Energy Cooperation: Strategic Implications,’ Middle East Policy, vol.21, no.4 (2014), p.122-23.

78 Ellen R. Wald, ‘Turkey and Iran: Energy, Economics and Politics in the face of Sanctions,’ Turkish Policy Quarterly, vol 17, no.3, (2018).

79 Elin Kinnader, ‘The Turkish-Iranian Gas Relationship: Politically Successful, Commercially Problematic,’ Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, 2010, p.8-10.

80 Akın Ünver, ‘Turkish-Iranian Energy Cooperation and Conflict: The Regional Politics,’ Middle East Policy, vol.23, no.2, (2016), p.138.

81 Kemal İnat, ‘Ekonomik İşbirliği Örgütü’nün 30. Yılınde Türkiye-İran Ekonomik İlişkileri,’ SETA Analiz, no.132, 2015, p.23.

82 Ambargo Sonrası İran Ekonomik ve Ticari Etki Analizi, p.22.

83 ‘Turkey to receive $1.9b from Iran over gas dispute,’ Financial Tribune, 24 January 2017, https://financialtribune.com/articles/energy/58155/turkey-to-receive-19b-from-iran-over-gas-dispute (accessed on 5 February 2019).

84 Wald, ‘Turkey and Iran: Energy, Economics and Politics in the face of Sanctions,’ p.142.

85 İnat, ‘Ekonomik İşbirliği Örgütü’nün 30. Yılında Türkiye-İran Ekonomik İlişkileri,’ p.24.

86 Kinnader, ‘The Turkish-Iranian Gas Relationship …,’ p.11-15.

87 ‘Turkish PM says wants Nabucco to transport Iran gas,’ Reuters, 13 July 2009. https://uk.reuters.com/article/energy-nabucco-iran/update-1-turkish-pm-says-wants-nabucco-to-transport-iran-gas-idUKLD60806920090713?sp=true (accessed on 5 February 2019).

88 Ünver, ‘Turkish-Iranian Energy Cooperation and Conflict …,’ p.134.

89 In order to overcome financial constraints for the shipment of payments for oil and gas, Iran accepted Turkish lira. Later it converted the sum into gold in Turkish markets and imported that gold through couriers into the country. The American administration instituted additional measures to curb this gold-for-energy trade with Iran. Wald, ‘Turkey and Iran: Energy, Economics and Politics in the face of Sanctions, p.142; İnat, ‘Ekonomik İşbirliği Örgütü’nün 30. Yılında Türkiye-İran Ekonomik İlişkileri,’ p.20-22.

90 Büşra Z. Özdemir, ‘İran Yaptırımları ve Türkiye-İran Enerji İlişkilerine Etkileri,’ SETA Analiz, no.260, 2018, p.20-21.

91 Wald, ‘Turkey and Iran: Energy, Economics and Politics in the face of Sanctions,’ p.143.

92 Atay Akdevelioğlu, ‘Türk Şirketlerinin İran’da Yatırım Girişimleri, TAV ve TURKCELL Örnekleri,’ Gazi Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, vol.2, no.2 (2015).

93 Akdevelioğlu, ‘Türk Şirketlerinin İran’da Yatırım Girişimleri, TAV ve TURKCELL Örnekleri,’ p.145-46.

94 According to that law, all privatisation contracts with consortiums in which majority shares were held by foreign companies necessitated the approval of Majlis. Akdevelioğlu, ‘Türk Şirketlerinin İran’da Yatırım Girişimleri, TAV ve TURKCELL Örnekleri,’ p.152.

95 ‘Razi Petrokimya’dan GÜBRETAŞ’a 345,2 milyon TL temettü geliri,’ Gübretaş, 3 March 2016, http://gubretas.com.tr/tr/icerik/31/2061/razi-petrokimyadan-gubretasa--3452-milyon-tl-temettu-geliri.aspx

96 ‘Özal daughter investing $400 m in Iran,’ Tehran Times, 23 June 2011, https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/242944/Özal-daughter-investing-400m-in-Iran (accessed on 5 February 2019).

97 Turkey's Unit International says agrees $4.2 billion deal to build Iran power plants,’ Reuters, 4 June 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-iran-energy/turkeys-unit-international-says-agrees-4-2-billion-deal-to-build-iran-power-plants-idUSKCN0YQ0BV (accessed on 5 February 2019).

98 ‘EPC Business,’ http://www.unit.com.tr/Epc-Works/Epc-Business (accessed on 5 February 2019).

99 ‘Pars Hayat,’ http://www.parshayat.ir/eng/?Page=1&id=3&Title=Pars-Hayat (accessed on 5 February 2019).

100 ‘Kuzu Grup, İran’da 57 bin konut yapıyor, Hürriyet, 29 July 2015, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/ekonomi/kuzu-grup-iranda-57-bin-konut-yapiyor-29676510 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

101 ‘İran’a kaya gibi yatırım,’ Hürriyet, 8 April 2016, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/ekonomi/irana-kaya-gibi-yatirim-40084562 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

102 ‘Türkiye-İran İlişkilerinde Yeni Dönem,’ DEİK, https://www.deik.org.tr/basin-aciklamalari-turkiye-iran-iliskilerinde-yeni-donem (accessed on 5 February 2019).

103 Iranians established 418 new companies in Turkey in 2010, 665 new companies in 2011, and 781 new companies in 2012. ‘Iranian Investment in Turkey on Rise,’ Hurriyet Daily News, 9 June 2014, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/iranian-investment-in-turkey-on-rise-cooperation-body-67601. The establishment of companies in Turkey is regarded as a strategy to overcome difficulties in transferring payments into Iran.

104 ‘Büyükelçilik Müşaviri: İran ve Türkiye ticareti Amerikan baskısını atlatmasıyla artacak,’ Milliyet, 26 February 2018, http://www.milliyet.com.tr/buyukelcilik-musaviri-iran-ve-turkiye-izmir-yerelhaber-2621411/ (accessed on 5 February 2019). Some of the ‘Iranian-owned’ companies registered in Turkish sources till 2003 have been established by Iranian exiles that fled to Turkey for various reasons, in order to ensure resident permits in the country. Automatic right for resident permits was removed in June 2003, which led a considerable decrease in the number of Iranian-owned companies. After the intensification of sanctions, many Iranians relocated their operations to Turkey. Despite the increasing number of companies, their investment amounts were considerably low. Most of the Iranian companies are based in Istanbul, mostly dealing with wholesale or retail trade. Despite the media reports for impending Iranian investments in Turkey, they were not realised. Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals…, p.63-65.

105 İran ülke notları,’ DEİK, https://www.deik.org.tr/uploads/iran-infografik.pdf, (accessed on 5 February 2019).

106 ‘Hema, Irankhodro say to sign 200 mln Euro deal,’ Reuters, 16 September 2010. https://www.reuters.com/article/turkey-iran-automotive/hema-iran-khodro-say-to-sign-200-mln-euro-deal-idUSIST00720920100916 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

107 Ambargo Sonrası İran Ekonomik ve Ticari Etki Analizi, p.23. American administration pressured on Turkey to cease operations of Bank Mellat branches in Turkey. Although the government resisted that pressure, Turkish banks stopped their interactions with Bank Mellat. İnat, ‘Ekonomik İşbirliği Örgütü’nün 30. Yılında Türkiye-İran Ekonomik İlişkileri,’ p.14.

108 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals …, p.58.

109 ‘Mehmet Hakan Atilla gets 32 month sentence in Iran sanction case,’ Al Jazeera, 16 May 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/mehmet-hakan-atilla-32-month-sentence-iran-sanctions-case-180516175154849.html (accessed on 5 February 2019).

110 ‘İran ve Türkiye arasında milli paralarla ticaret yapılması nihaileşti,’ IRNA Türkçe, 20 October, 2017. http://www.irna.ir/tr/News/3530693 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

111 ‘Iran-Turkey currency swap entered into force, with the opening of the first letter of credit by Bank Melli Iran,’ Central Bank of the IRI, 21 April 2018, https://www.cbi.ir/showitem/17705.aspx

112 Ceyhun Can Özcan, ‘İran-Türkiye Turizm İlişkileri,’ İRAM, Ankara, 6 September 2017, https://www.iramcenter.org/iran-ve-turkiye-turizm-iliskileri/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

113 2017 Tahran Uluslararası Turizm Fuarı Değerlendirme Raporu, TÜRSAB, https://www.tursab.org.tr/apps/OldFiles//dosya/15825/tahran-turizm-fuar-raporu_15825_6240747.pdf (accessed on 5 February 2019).

114 Ambargo Sonrası İran Ekonomik ve Ticari Etki Analizi, p.189.

115 ‘Turkish investors to visit Iran on hotel building plan,’ Tehran Times, 21 October 2017. https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/417784/Turkish-investors-to-visit-Iran-on-hotel-building-plan (accessed on 5 February 2019).

116 Rohollah Faghihi and Ece Göksedef, ‘Off to Turkey: Iranians flee one troubled economy for another,’ Middle East Eye, 12 September 2018. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-iranians-flee-one-troubled-economy-another (accessed on 5 February 2019).

117 ‘Turkey Fact Sheet,’ UNHCR, August 2018, https://www.unhcr.org/tr/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2018/09/01.-UNHCR-Turkey-Fact-Sheet-August-2018.pdf

118 ‘İşte yabancı uyrukluların en yoğun olduğu iller,’ Hürriyet, 3 February 2019, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/ekonomi/iste-yabanci-uyruklularin-yogun-oldugu-iller-41104006 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

119 The number of Iranian students studying in Turkey was around 3,300 in 2013; 4,300 in 2014, and 5,300 in 2015. Nazlı Yüzbaşıoğlu, ‘Over 100,000 international students study in Turkey,AA, 16 May 2018, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/education/over-100-000-international-students-study-in-turkey/1148030 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

120 Özcan, ‘İran-Türkiye Turizm İlişkileri.’

121 Larrabee and Nader, Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East, p.19-20.

122 Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals…, p.45-49.

123 Hasan Kanbolat, ‘Kafkas İstikrar ve İşbirliği Platformuna Ankara Ev Sahipliği Yapacak,’ Hürriyet, 13 January 2009, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/dunya/kafkas-istikrar-ve-isbirligi-paltformu-na-ankara-ev-sahipligi-yapacak-10767661 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

124 ‘About Turkic Council,’ Türk Keneşi/Turkic Council, https://www.turkkon.org/en/turk-konseyi-hakkinda (accessed on 5 February 2019).

125 Evanthia Bella, ‘Turkish and Iranian interests and policies in the South Caucasus,’ Norwegian Peacebuilding Research Center, Policy Brief, April 2013.

126 Davutoglu says Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan look to enhance ties,’ World Bulletin, 17 April 2011, https://www.worldbulletin.net/diplomacy/davutoglu-says-turkey-iran-and-azerbaijan-look-to-enhance-ties-h72624.html (accessed on 5 February 2019).

127 Richard Weitz, ‘Caspian Triangles: Azerbaijan’s Trilateral Diplomacy – A New Approach for A New Era,’ Central Asia Economy Papers, no.14, May 2015. http://centralasiaprogram.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Eco-Papers-14-May-2015.pdf (accessed on 5 February 2019), p.7.

128 Weitz, ‘Caspian Triangles: Azerbaijan’s Trilateral Diplomacy …, p.8. Speaking after the Nakhchivan meeting in 2012, Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi indicated that there is a strong bond between the three countries “but this does not...mean that there is no disagreement between us.”

129 ‘Ramsar Statement of the Fourth Trilateral Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Turkey,’ Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Islamic Republic of Iran, 6 April 2016, http://tehran.mfa.gov.az/news/4/3062 (accessed on 5 February 2019)..

130 ‘Istanbul Statement’, IRI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 30 October 2018, https://en.mfa.ir/portal/NewsView/36723.

131 ‘Press Release Regarding the First Quadrilateral Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Iran,’ Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 March 2018, http://www.mfa.gov.tr/no_-70_-turkiye-azerbaycan-gurcistan-iran-disisleri-bakanlari-dortlu-toplantisi-hk_en.en.mfa (accessed on 5 February 2019).

132 Yarmohammadian, et. al., ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertainty,’ p.21.

133 Nabiollah Ebrahimi, ‘Iran, Turkey and the Arab Revolutions,’ Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, vol.3, no.3, 2012, p.67. See also Ali Hussein Bakir, Turkish-Iranian Relations in the Shadow of the Arab Revolutions: A vision of the present and the future, Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, 4 July 2011; Bülent Aras, ‘Turkey and Iran: Facing the Challenge of the Arab Spring,GMF On Turkey Analysis, 19 February 2013; Özüm S. Uzun, The ‘Arab Spring and its effect on Turkish-Iranian Relations,’ Ortadoğu Etütleri, vol.4, no.2 (2013).

134 For instance see Behlul Ozkan, ‘Turkey’s Imperial Fantasy,’ The New York Times, 28 August 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/29/opinion/ahmet-davutoglu-and-turkeys-imperial-fantasy.html (accessed on 5 February 2019).

135 Yarmohammadian, et. al., ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertainty,’ p.22.

136 Banihashemi, ‘Understanding the AKP’s regional policy: An Iranian Perspective,’ p.116.

137 Banihashemi, ‘Understanding the AKP’s regional policy: An Iranian Perspective,’ p.116; Ahmadi and Ghorbani, ‘The Impact of Syrian Crisis on Iran-Turkey Relations.’

138 Onur Burçak Belli, ‘Ankara-Tahran hattında restleşmeler,’ BBC Türkçe, 9 August 2012, https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler/2012/08/120809_iran_turkey_relations (accessed on 5 February 2019).

139 Laure Rozen, ‘Turkey’s Erdoğan meets Iran’s Ahmadinejad on Syria,’ the Back-Channel, 16 October 2012, http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2012/10/2663/turkeys-erdogan-confers-on-syria-with-irans-ahmadinejad-in-baku/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

140 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘Federalism in Syria, PYD and Ambivalent Position of Iran,’ ORSAM Foreign Policy Analysis, 4 April 2017, https://orsam.org.tr/en/federalism-in-syria-pyd-and-ambivalent-position-of-iran/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

141 ‘Respect to States Sovereignty Needed in Anti-Terror Campaign,’ Islamic Republic News Agency, 25 July 2015. https://en.irna.ir/news/81694709/Respect-to-states-sovereignty-needed-in-anti-terror-campaign (accessed on 5 February 2019).

142 ‘Senior Lawmaker: Turkey Seeking to Suppress PKK on War-on-ISIL Pretext,’ FNA, 14 August 2015, http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13940523000690 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

143 Sinkaya, ‘Federalism in Syria, PYD and Ambivalent Position of Iran.’

144 ‘Iran shows reaction to Turkeys troops deployment in Syria,’ Islamic Invitation Turkey, 25 August 2016, https://www.islamicinvitationturkey.com/iran-shows-reaction-to-turkeys-troops-deployment-in-syria/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

145 ‘Iran expresses concern over Turkey military operation in Syria,’ IRI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 31 August 2016, http://en.mfa.ir/index.aspx?fkeyid=&siteid=3&pageid=2021&newsview=411258 . (accessed on 5 February 2019).

146 ‘Iran ‘concerned’ by Turkish assault on northern Syria,’ Al-Monitor, 22 January 2018, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/01/iran-regional-policy-turkey-afrin-operation-reaction.html#ixzz5h3VkBQY0 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

147 Mahan Abedin, ‘Why Iran cautiously supports Turkey’s Operation in Afrin,’ Middle East Eye, 31 January 2018, https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/why-iran-cautiously-supports-turkeys-operation-afrin (accessed on 5 February 2019).

148 Ahmadi and Ghorbani, ‘The Impact of Syrian Crisis on Iran-Turkey Relations.’

149 ‘At the end of Ankara Summit; Iran, Russia, Turkey Presidents’ joint statement,’ IRI Presidency, 4 April 2018, http://www.president.ir/en/103754 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

150 ‘İdlib Anlaşması, Silahlar Çekiliyor,’ Hurriyet, 6 October 2018, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/idlib-anlasmasi-silahlar-cekiliyor-40978820 (accessed on 5 February 2019).

151 Verda Özer, ‘Güvenli bölge bizim kontrolümüzde olmalı,’ Milliyet, 16 February 2019. http://www.milliyet.com.tr/guvenli-bolge-bizim-kontrolumuzde-siyaset-2828528/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

152 ‘Relations with Iran – 2003,’ Turkishpress, http://www.turkishpress.com/specials/2003/yir/iran.asp (accessed on 5 February 2019).

153 Yarmohammadian, et. al., ‘Turkish-Iranian Relations: Prospects and Uncertainty,’ p.20.

154 Another pillar of the competition between Ankara and Tehran was over ensuring the sympathy of the Iraqi Turkmen. While Turkey supported the ITC to promote the Turkmen case, Iran tried to convince the Turkmen to focus on sectarian identity rather than on a linguistic one. Jenkins, Occasional Allies, Enduring Rivals …, p.29, 31, 44.

155 ‘Iraqi PM questions role of Turkey in unrest,’ Al-Jazeera, 31 December 2012, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/12/201212311575903731.html (accessed on 5 February 2019).

156 ‘Sectarianism serves as an excuse for interventions in the Islamic World,’ Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, 11 October 2016, https://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/news/542/53569/islam-dunyasi-terorizm-bahane-edilerek-bolunmeye-calisiliyor (accessed on 5 February 2019); Birce Bora, ‘What is Turkey trying to achieve in Iraq?’ Al Jazeera News, 14 October 2016, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/analysis-turkey-achieve-iraq-161013032856045.html (accessed on 5 February 2019).

157 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘The Mosul Operation and Iran,’ ORSAM Foreign Policy Analysis, 27 October 2016, https://orsam.org.tr/en/the-mosul-operation-and-iran/ (accessed on 5 February 2019) ; Muhanad Saloom, ‘Turkish and Iranian Interests Cross Paths in Mosul,’ Alsharq Forum, 23 November 2016, https://www.sharqforum.org/2016/11/23/turkish-and-iranian-interests-cross-paths-in-mosul/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

158 ‘Turkey Is No Longer a Country That Turns the Other Cheek When It Is Slapped On One Cheek,’ Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, 20 April 2017, https://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/news/542/74854/turkey-is-no-longer-a-country-that-turns-the-other-cheek-when-it-is-slapped-on-one-cheek (accessed on 5 February 2019).

159 ‘Iraq, Iran, Turkey release statement on KRG referendum plan,’ MEHR News Agency, 21 September 2017, https://en.mehrnews.com/news/128004/Iraq-Iran-Turkey-release-statement-on-KRG-referendum-plan (accessed on 5 February 2019).

160 Bayram Sinkaya, ‘Turkish-Iranian Rapprochement and President Erdogan’s visit to Tehran,’ ORSAM Foreign Policy Analysis, 9 October 2017, https://orsam.org.tr/en/turkish-iranian-rapprochement-and-president-erdogan-s-visit-to-iran/ (accessed on 5 February 2019).

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