What Is Turkey Up to by Criticizing Iran?
(Picture: Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu at this year's Munich Security Conference. His accusations of sectarianism against Tehran have infuriated Iranian media.)
Remarks made by Turkish officials have infuriated Iranian officials. During a recent visit to Bahrain, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly accused Iran of seeking to destabilize Iraq and Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, also criticized what he called an Iranian “sectarian policy” aimed at undermining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, saying, “Turkey is very much against any kind of division, religious or sectarian”.
In protest, Tehran summoned Turkish ambassador, Reza Hakan Tekin. In a meeting on Monday, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia and Pacific Affairs Ebrahim Rahimpour handed over an official letter of protest to Hakan Tekin, PressTV reported.
In a weekly presser held on Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi called Turkey one of Tehran’s good neighbors, stressing that Ankara is aware of Iran’s support of the country particularly in the wake of the coup attempt. “Turkey is in a critical, chaotic, and concerning situation,” Qassemi professed the reason several Turkish officials are acting and speaking so inelegantly. He advised Turkish officials to adopt a wiser approach toward Iran, warning that if “our friends in Turkey” want to continue their erroneous behavior, Iran would have no choice but to respond.
Iranian website Fararu has consulted Middle East observer Hassan Lasjerdi over a recent visit Erdogan made to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. In an interview published on Sunday, Lasjerdi highlighted Turkey’s domestic political and economic issues after Binali Yıldırım took office as prime minister the main backdrop of the visit. The Turkey’s return to the region, Lasjerdi said, is significant for the economic exchanges it could lead to. In his assessment of Erdogan’s Arabian visits, Lasjerdi told Fararu that Turkey was trying to convince Arab leaders that its involvement in Syria would not affect their interests. “Turkey is signaling that it will not oppose the Arabs’ policies in Syria,” Fararu quoted him as saying. On the one hand, Ankara is seeking to have a role in the Syria file and on the other hand, it is making promises to Arab countries in order to avoid a confrontation and persuade them to make investments in Turkey, Lasherdi concluded.
However, almost every other Iranian media outlet has fired back on Turkey for biting more than it can chew. Calling Turkey an agent/accomplice of the US, the Zionists, and the Saudis and a sponsor of ISIS and Al-Nusra Front, conservative daily Resalat attacked Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dictatorship for fueling Turkey’s transformation into an epitome of terror in the region and the world.
Like Resalat, the Persian online outlet Siasat-e Rooz wrote that Turkey is intoxicated by the coalition it has made with Saudi Arabia and Israel. The website published quotes by Abbasali Mansouri Arani, former Tehran attaché in Riyadh, who sees the remarks as part of Turkey’s illusion of restoring the Ottoman Empire. The former member of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee said Turkey’s miscalculation could have serious consequences for Tehran-Ankara ties, which will be difficult to make up in the years to come. Turkish officials’ claims that Iran is planning to help establish Shia governments in Iraq and Syria are only intended to divert public opinions in the two countries, he added. The official organ of Iran’s Judiciary, Mizan Online also published an interview with Middle East expert Reza Seraj who said the new war of words launched by Saudi and Turkish foreign ministers indicates that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are relying on the new US administration, presided by Donald Trump.
In an op-ed published in pro-reform daily Etemad, Turkey analyst Assadollah Athari scrutinizes the allegation of sectarianism brought up against Tehran to see why Turkey has joined the Saudi-led anti-Iran coalition. Athari dismisses claims that Iran supports the Alawites and Shias in Syria, writing that Iran backs the Kurds in Syria and tries to prevent tension between Damascus and the Kurds, who are Sunnis. He also notes that Iran has for years stood by Hamas, the Islamic Jihad Movement, and other Palestinian resistance groups who are Sunnis. The Turkey expert also points out the differences between the Alawites in Syria or Houthis in Yemen, generally seen as Shias, but whose sects are quite different from the religious establishment in Iran. He argues that Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are looking for a pretext to increase pressure on Iran, hoping that Washington becomes involved in a conflict with Tehran. Their miscalculation however lies in the fact that they see the Trump administration as an absolute friend whereas he has not adopted any specific policy on the Middle East yet, he concluded.
Reformist newspaper Aftab-e-Yazd also called Erdogan a moody politician, whose most recent vitriolic conduct against Iran is caused by two overlapping triangles formed in the region. Its first triangle being the same Turkish-Saudi-Israeli axis noted by other Iranian outlets, the daily wrote that Persian Gulf sheikhdoms of Qatar, Jordan, and of course Saudi Arabia have formed another increasingly cooperative triangle, now in coordination with the US. The print outlet moved on to remind its reader that Turkey was not trustworthy from the very beginning in trilateral Astana talks, as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu took back his country’s previous position and said Turkey would not allow Bashar al-Assad to play a role in the future of Syria. The daily took this as a sign of Saudi pressure on Turkey, adding that Turkey has distanced not only from Iran but also from Russia. “Turkey is paying ransom to the US, trying to get back a larger ransom, called Fethullah Gülen,” Aftab-e-Yazd added.