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Rudaw

Opinion

Turkey’s Response to Iran Protests Tells Us All We Need to Know of Ankara

By DAVID ROMANO 10/1/2018
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When Sunni Arab-led protests against dictators in Cairo and Damascus broke out several years ago, Turkish government leaders unhesitatingly sympathized with the protestors. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Justice and Development Party (AKP), and their sycophantic media immediately identified with the Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamist opposition groups and their grievances towards secular dictators. In the case of Libya, the identification with anti-Ghaddafi forces was not nearly so immediate – although many ascribed this to the many business dealings the Ghaddafi regime had with Turkish companies. Ghaddafi was also not a secular dictator but fairly Islamist in his style and rhetoric.


This past week’s protests in Iran clarify the outlook in Ankara further, however. One would normally expect a long-standing member of NATO, a self-styled leader of the Sunni world, a traditional rival of the Persians to the East, and a state with a Western-style secular electoral system to sympathize with the protestors in Iran. The Iranian protesters decry lack of democracy in their country, regime corruption, poor governance and Tehran’s expensive involvement in proxy wars across the region. What’s more, those proxy wars all involve Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces helping Shiite clients against Sunni opponents in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere.


Instead of siding with the protestors or at least expressing sympathy for them, President Erdogan instead called Iranian President Rouhani to express his support for Iranian government authorities. As Mustafa Akyol explains in Al Monitor, the regime in Ankara and his pliant media chose to view events in Iran as an American-Zionist plot to overthrow a “defiant Muslim nation”: 


Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in a statement to the press on Jan. 2…. [stated that] “It is said that other forces are behind the events…. One is [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, the other one is [US President Donald] Trump.” Meanwhile, the pro-government media — which now constitute the majority of Turkish media — had already mapped out the plot: The Iranian protesters were merely the tools of outside powers that were trying to bring a defiant Muslim nation to its knees.


Among the dozens of columns that conveyed this point of view, one was by Ibrahim Karagul, the editor-in-chief of daily Yeni Safak [a stridently pro-Erdogan paper]. Accordingly, Iran was being “stirred up” by America and Israel. Moreover, if these two forces succeed in taking over Iran, the “next step” would be none other than Turkey itself. Talking heads on the pro-government news channel A Haber repeated the same line. These protests were taking place because “a new Middle East map" was being designed by the West. There seemed to be a "CIA-Mossad finger" behind the unrest. And if Iran did not stay robust, “the Syrian scenario” could well be repeated.


In short, the pro-Western Turkey that joined NATO in 1952 no longer exists. The first reflex of today’s leaders in Turkey is to view events in the region as American-Zionist plots and to peddle these conspiracy theories to their constituents.


This was also the predictable response in Ankara to the recently concluded trial of former Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla and Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab in New York. That trial found both Atilla and Zarrab guilty of helping Iran evade US sanctions and unearthed accounts of high level bribes paid to Erdogan’s inner circle and of Erdogan himself ordering Zarrab to help Iran evade sanctions. Mr. Erdogan and his ministers’ response was to accuse the US judicial system of being in league with the Fethullah Gulen movement and to claim that Washington is intent on besmirching and weakening Turkey and its government.


The electoral democratic system that Turkey used to have, although never liberal or problem-free, is now also a thing of the past. President Erdogan has removed the essential columns supporting any real democratic system: a free media, an independent judiciary and state security organs that answer to parliament rather than one man. It seems unlikely that a free or fair election will occur again in Turkey any time soon.


Turkey and its governing system, including the presence of an unassailable supreme leader, rigged elections, a shackled media, and a sort of devout Muslim nationalism, has thus come to resemble Iran more than any other neighbor in the region. It thus makes sense that AKP elites in Turkey readily identify with governing elites in neighboring Iran – despite the Sunni-Shiite divide. Both states have chosen, in Mustafa Akyol’s account, an “authoritarian revolutionary path.” In the Middle East, this is the path that blames all domestic shortcomings, government wrongdoings and public disturbances on American-Zionist plots.


David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.

Comments

 
Eugene | 10/1/2018
Will what is happening in Iran, .....soon,..... happen in Turkey(the Persian Winter...as opposed to Arab Spring).....
dilan | 10/1/2018
churchill domesticated the rebellious turks, obama liberals revived them, iranian mullahs collect the money.
pre-Boomer Marine brat | 10/1/2018
"a sort of devout" (Muslim nationalism) ... I love it. A multitude of slams gently stirred into one simple phrase.
FAUthman | 10/1/2018
The enclave in Syria Turkey occupies is what I would be concerned with where Erdogan seems to be plotting to move against Kurds in Afrin and Manbij. The deeper Turkey digs itself in a hole to alienate the US, the harder it will be for Erdogan to accomplish its ambitions in Syria. So the news from the Turkish foreign minister about Iran's uprisings may actually yield benefits to Kurds in northern Syria. So let hom keep it up, no problem!
Sinan | 11/1/2018
Turkey knows Iran probably better than any country in the West, follows it more closely than probably any western country including US. Many Turkish Writer/analysts seen this protests weren't resonating with the large portion of the Iran's population unlike Western media suggested. Erdogan and Turkish FM waited a couple days to understand the situation, and invested into winning side. That is very pragmatic. It should also be noted Article suggests Turkey waited awhile to help Libyan uprising while immediately supporting Syrian opposition. Many people may not know but Turkish Foreign minister semi regularly visited Syria and tried to find political solution until 6 months into civil war. And Erdogan who was personal friend with Assad before civil war, tried to persuade Assad many times in this period. And This was despite Turkish-Syrian relations were historically terrible. Back in the 90s Turkey was came close to attacking Syria over their support to PKK. On the other hand, Turkish Libyan relations were always great, Gaddafi was beloved in Turkey because Gaddafi/Libya was one of the few countries who helped Turkey when it needed most back in 70s after Turkey's intervention to Cyprus. And Turkey helped Libya throughout their independence struggle. And Economically, Turkish companies was getting almost every single government contract in Libya before civil war. It as estimated Turkish investments was between 20-30b$ to Libya. My suggestion disregard this article since shallow knowledge might suggests wrong conclusions.
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