Turkey-Iran relationship becomes 'more competitive'

Mon 05 Mar 2012 09:13 GMT | 13:13 Local Time

Text size: bigger smaller

News.Az interviews Nigar Goksel, senior analyst at the European Stability Initiative (ESI) and editor-in-chief of Turkish Policy Quarterly.
What is Turkey’s attitude to the Iran issue?

It’s clear that Turkey and Iran have taken on a more competitive relationship in the past year, let’s say, compared to the period between 2005 and 2010. I would say a few years ago Iran and Turkey seemed to be on the same page when it comes to certain issues in the region, the larger region as well, ensuring that the West is not too influential in their neighbourhood. Now we can see an increasing conflict of interests, with regard to the NATO missile defence shield, with regard to Syria, with regard to the nuclear program that Iran is allegedly developing.

So the Turkish government that has been on the side of the Syrian people, on the side of the NATO alliance and whatnot, I think has made it very clear that it’s not a win-win relationship at certain levels but a zero-sum relationship. That changes the nature of the way the two countries relate to each other. That being said, publically both countries are being very cautious about expressing any rivalry, let alone antagonism. They are both containing the negative developments and portraying relative collaboration. So it’s still rather behind the scenes, let’s say. But certainly one can say that the last year has put Turkey and Iran against each other on certain very concrete points that are existential but quite important for both of them.

On 7 March, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan are going to meet in Nakhchivan. This is the third meeting in this format. What do you think about the prospects of this triangular format for tackling regional problems?

Iran and Azerbaijan have their own challenges in their relationship, Turkey and Iran likewise, as we just mentioned. I think it’s a good thing that the three of them will sit together and talk about their different approaches and the challenges in their relationship. I doubt that too many ground-breaking new paradigms will come out of that kind of a triangular discussion, but I think in terms of alleviating the tensions, ensuring that a negative spiral doesn’t come about because there have been tensions in recent days between Azerbaijan and Iran as well over Israel. I think it’s good to sit together and talk, as opposed to watching the public debates increasingly reflect a dramatic tone. As I said, I wouldn’t expect an alliance of any kind to come about, but it’s better to defuse tension in a joint discussion, as opposed to exchanging harsh rhetoric about each other in the press. So I think it’s probably a good thing that it is taking place, though I don’t have very high expectations.

What should Turkey do to prevent the new French leadership, the one voted in at the elections, adopting a new resolution on the so-called genocide?

France already has a recognition law, but the risk now is that it will have a resolution that criminalizes denial of the word genocide to depict the 1915 events. I think Turkey has made it very clear how critical this is for Turkey’s national interests and for French-Turkish relations and, in fact, Turkey- EU relations. At the public level particularly, the Turkish public, I think, lashes out. It doesn’t really separate France from the EU at some level. It becomes more anti-Western when these kinds of things are cooked up in any one of the EU member states. It’s going to be tricky in that it really might be rejuvenated, the same bill, so this relief that has now set in in Turkey about averting this risk through the Constitutional Commission’s cancellation of it, I think this relief might be short-lived. 
I think Turkey has done a lot of positive, constructive, effective lobbying: they used French universities based in Istanbul, French business groups that were active in Turkey and a lot of different levels of society to counter this bill.

In that sense, I think it’s been a success from Turkey’s point of view. But instead of this crisis management and putting so much attention and money into something when it flares up, what Turkey of course needs to do is to have more consistent engagement about this issue in France and in all other European countries as well. It shouldn’t be an initiative only worked on when the risk is at the doorstep. I think Turkey is laying down groundwork to do so, particularly as 2015 approaches – I think there will be more effective Turkish approaches that will be laid out.
Engaging the diaspora in France is also necessary, because at some level, if you’re constantly in combat with each other, then one day one will win and one day the other will win. We need a long-term solution and that needs to involve both compromises from the Turkish side, obviously, and hopefully the involvement of a more mainstream, more constructive, group in the diaspora of Armenia as well. We hear the most vocal, most negative diaspora quite loudly, but it’s also important to realize that the entire Armenian diaspora doesn’t feel the same way or doesn’t want the same aggressive ends. It’s important to bring into the process more moderate voices from among the Armenian diaspora as well.

Of course, Turkey needs to demonstrate that it’s allowing full freedom of speech in Turkey for Turkey to be able to claim to France that repression of freedom of speech on this issue is immoral or unethical and wrong. Turkey has to make sure that there’s nobody in Turkey that’s undergoing a court case for calling 1915 a genocide. There are actually a couple of cases where that has taken place. So Turkey maybe should set a very high standard and hope that France follows that standard.


Most read articles

More from Interviews

In The Region

Editor's Picks

Azerbaijan Cuisine

Explore the food of Azerbaijan - from sherbet to succulent kebab, from baklava to fragrant pilaff

Follow us

Find us on Facebook

Real estate

Virtual karabakh