Although friendship and companionship of the two sides have been intermingled with competition and even hidden hostility, the two countries, understanding each other’s circumstances, have not allowed conflict of their interests be turned into overt hostility.
An Overview of the Background of Relations
Iran-Turkey relations have a long history that can be considered in different historical periods and junctures (Safavid, Afsharid, Zand, Qajar, Pahlavi, and post-revolutionary periods).
- A) From Safavid to Qajar
In general, during more than two centuries of the Safavid rule over Iran, as well as during the Afsharid, Zand and Qajar eras, there were many ups and downs between the two governments of Iran and the Ottoman Empire. The occurrence of numerous wars and the conclusion of peace treaties were obvious manifestations of the relations between the two countries from the Safavid up to the end of Qajar dynasties. The bilateral relations, especially in the Safavid and Qajar eras, were due to their internal situation. In other words, either of the two sides that succeeded in stabilizing the situation was able to put pressure on the other, but neither side was able to eliminate the other, and the conflicts were mostly on the borders. Thus, the model governing the relationship between the two sides during the 420-year period has been largely “hostility and cooperation”.
- B) Pahlavi I
The coming to power of Reza Pahlavi in Iran and Ataturk in Turkey in 1302 was the starting point for the emergence of a new form of the “slow” but “continuous” relationship. The closeness of Reza Pahlavi and Ataturk to each other, who were both somehow on the same path, and the desire of the world powers made the two countries to distance from hostility and war and be inclined towards “convergence” and friendship. Having a dictatorial and militaristic spirit, fear of communism, willingness to strengthen ties with the West, moving towards modernization and distancing from religion were common features of Reza Pahlavi and Ataturk that played an important role in deepening relations between the two countries. “Friendship and cooperation”, which arose mostly from the common features of the rulers of the two countries, was the pattern governing over the relations between the two countries in Reza Pahlavi and Ataturk period. Of course, some border tensions could still be seen during that period.
- C) Pahlavi II
With the commencement of the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, which coincided with the World War II and the occupation of Iran by the Allied forces, relations between the two countries were severed until the time when Mossadegh was in office; after Mossadegh’s overthrow in an American-British coup, friendly relations resumed even more and better than Reza Pahlavi’s era, and many of the factors that hindered relations were forgotten until the second half of 1960. Looking to the West and fear of communism was a common feature of the two countries during that period, which played an important role in deepening relations between the two sides.
However, some issues, such as Mohammad Reza’s sensitivity to pan-Turkism in Turkey, which he considered as a domestic danger, and the dissatisfaction with the passage of Iranian trucks through Turkey, caused ups and downs in bilateral relations. From the second half of 1960s to the early 1970s for a variety of reasons, including Turkish bureaucrats’ criticism of the Shah’s dictatorship, the negative attitude of the Turkish press towards Mohammad Reza’s dictatorship, Turkey’s support for opposition Iranian students, Turkish concern over Pahlavi support for Iraqi Kurds, and improved Iran-Iraq relations, etc. relations between the two sides were tense. During Mohammad Reza’s reign, “competition and friendship” was the dominant pattern over relations between the two sides.
- D) Post-revolution
In the aftermath of the victory of the revolution (1979), although it was thought that the relations between the two countries would stagnate due to the strong position of secularism and Westernization in Turkey, contrary to those perceptions, Turkey recognized the revolutionary government of Iran and refused to be incompatible with the new revolutionary system of Iran. Of course, given the mentality of Ataturk and his opposition to Islam and alliance with Reza Pahlavi, Iran did not have a good view of Turkey in the early years of the revolution, but nevertheless, relations between the two sides were not hostile and even some differences did not hinder cooperation in the economic, political, security, cultural and inter-governmental spheres, and this process continued. It can be said that the pattern governing the relations between Turkey and Iran in the post-revolution period has been “friendship and competition”.
Competition in Politics & Friendship in Economics
An overview of the quality of Iran-Turkey relations in different historical periods from the Safavid to the present time shows that despite the existence of hidden hostility and strife in some junctures and also competition on various border issues, etc., what has prevailed in the overall relations between the two countries has been “economic cooperation” and “political competition”. In the cultural and social fields, the two countries have had noticeable cooperation, especially in the years after the revolution. In other words, by examining the history of Iran-Turkey relations, two different trends and tendencies can be encountered. First, the political, economic (and to some extent military) cooperation, which dates back to the Sa’dabad Treaty and the Baghdad, the CENTO, the Regional Cooperation for Development, and the ECO treaties are considered as its continuance. Second, the differences and the gap between the two countries have generally been due to the specific concerns of the two sides.
What is clear is that Iran and Turkey are seeking to influence the developments in the region and become the first regional power. In this regard, both countries have defined roles for themselves in the region and believe that it has led to conflicts; conflicts that are “controlled” and so far, even despite the mischief of some destructive players, including the Zionist regime, the United States and Saudi Arabia, and their attempts to break the relationship between the two sides, the competition has not turned into an obvious “enmity”.
In this connection, the relations between the two countries because Iran and Turkey are in a common sphere of civilization and have intensive religious, cultural, social, linguistic, etc. commonalities, it seems unlikely that its levels of competition and conflict that hundreds of years has overshadowed the relations between the two countries and has become an integral part of the bilateral relations, be turned into tension and conflict. At the same time, this competition and cooperation has always led to a win-win game.
Of course, as was noted, in recent years the cunning attempts by destructive regional and international players to undermine Tehran-Ankara relations have been on the agenda, with the Turkish government sometimes making gross miscalculations with regard to Iran.
What is clear is that interests of Turkey, as a neighboring, non-Arab and Muslim country with the most civilizational and historical similarities in the region with Iran, seek development and deepening of relations with Iran. The Islamic Republic is not only a powerful player, but also a reliable one which stands by its friends. Iran is the same country that sided with the Turkish government during the 2016 coup and saved Erdogan from the trouble they had prepared for him.
The Turkish government should not allow the historical pattern of the relations with Iran, which has always been based on constructive competition and close cooperation, and its competitive dimensions, become tense due to some wrong policies, as well as the intervention of foreign players and foreign countries. No country in the world can be Iran for Turkey and vice versa.
The constant cultural exchanges and intermingle that is rooted in the depths of history, has caused the relations between the two countries go beyond the relations between the two neighbors and the two governments. A major part of Iran-Turkey relations is the relations that are formed by natural selection and outside the political will of governments and are rooted in the history and geographical proximity of the people of the two countries. Therefore, if Turkey intends to subordinate its relations with Iran to its relations with third countries, even if it is the United States or the Zionist regime, it will automatically lose the geostrategic and geopolitical opportunities of the relationship with Iran, which has valuable and different aspects.