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Iranian inroads in Turkey

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The Iranian lobby in Turkey
Gökhan Bacik; Today’s Zaman; Feb. 26, 2012

It is extraordinary to observe that the Iranian effect on Turkey, including its domestic politics, is crucial.

In sharp contrast, Turkey cannot generate the same level of influence on Iranian politics. I am not sure if there is any serious organized group in Iran that is influenced by Turkey. Similarly, Turkey’s influence over the Azeri people in Iran is very limited. More, there is no kind of consequential Turkish influence over Iranian intellectuals or political life. However, there are several, if not many, groups in Turkey who have historically been inspired by Iran. How is this possible, remembering that Turks have been a challenger of Iran since the Ottoman ages?

Here is a simple comparison: Turkey has been part of NATO since 1952. NATO protected Turkey during the Cold War against the Soviet threat. In the post-Cold War period, Turkey has gained a higher profile in many global issues, including the Arab Spring, due to NATO’s support. But, it has become almost shameful to support any NATO project in Turkey today. Opposition parties and journalists frequently criticize the government for being part of various NATO agendas. On the other hand, despite various high-profile Iranian figures regularly and openly threatening Turkey, it is not again easy to criticize Iran in Turkey. Since last year, ironically, it has been a major task of the Turkish government to persuade the public that the NATO radar system is not against Iran.

In like manner, both conservative and Kemalist secular parties have a very tolerant approach to Iran. Even one can easily detect that both Islamists and Kemalists have the same narrative on Iran. For instance, they both argue that the NATO radar system has been installed to protect Israel from Iran. For example, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Kemalist secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Sept. 8, 2011, said: “Why is this NATO radar system being installed in Turkey? Is it to protect Turkey? No, of course not. So what is it for? To protect Israel against Iran.” In this vein, I should note that since the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the traditional Kemalist narrative of “Turkey is becoming Iran” was interestingly left behind.

So, how is Iran successful? Naturally, there are many reasons to explain this; however, I will just focus on two factors. To begin with, it may seem interesting but the 1979 Iranian Revolution had the utmost affect on various Sunni Islamic groups in Turkey. Iran has been an irrelevant sample for the Turkish Alevis. Thus, the early and significant effect of the 1979 Iranian revolution was felt among various Sunni Islamic groups. How was that possible? Various Sunni Turkish Islamic groups took the Iranian case as a political model against the West. Thus, they believed that they would be able to rid the Iran model of its Shia elements. Therefore, the Iranian model was imported to Turkey as if it was a sect-free phenomenon. Consequently, many distinguished people (in various public offices and universities) have a very positive view about the Iranian model in today’s Turkey. In a historical analogy, the 1979 Iranian Revolution was saluted by many Turkish Sunni Islamic figures just like the Arab Spring of the present day: An anti-Western popular revolution that would bring back the oppressed Muslims. A curios scholar will find many interesting things if he studies the Islamic journals and newspapers published in 1979.

The second factor is the economy. Turco-Iranian trade exceeds $15 billion, but it is not possible to send even $100 from Turkey to Iran through the banking system. There are more than 1,000 Turkish firms owned by Iranians in Turkey and there also exist many other informal social and political networks sustaining this huge trade volume. Of course, money is not a neutral phenomenon in politics, and this huge amount of money creates many networks between Iranian and Turkish politics as it travels between the two countries.

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Written by M. James

February 29, 2012 at 12:36 am

Posted in Politics, Religion, Turkey

Tagged with , , , , , ,

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