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MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

mab@hurriyet.com.tr

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND > Let’s not underestimate Iran

NEW YORK

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Not only in our country but everywhere else and especially in the United Nations, the conversation is focused on Iran. In the past, Turkey was not quite included in these debates, but this time Ankara is in every calculation. The winds in the region have changed direction. Until a while ago, Turkey and Iran used to embrace each other. As the developments in Syria increased in tension, their ways began to diverge.

Turkish society is in a surprised mood with regard to Iran. We cannot decide at all whether this country is our foe or friend. When viewed from the past to today, we can see that we have never been very close with whoever is ruling in Tehran.

Until 1979 (the Shah era), Iran was our forced ally. Even though it was forced, Turkish and Iranian leaders would walk arm in arm, military alliances were formed and we both would be the gendarmerie of Washington in the region.

When Ayatollah Khomeini took power in the 1980s, Ankara adopted a different stance. Tehran was regarded as a dangerous country exporting the Islamic Revolution. Iranian leaders, when they paid an official visit to Turkey, would not want to visit Atatürk’s mausoleum. Similarly, Turkish leaders would not go to Khomeini’s tomb. In spite of this, Turkey was Iran’s door to the West and Iran was Turkey’s door to exporting in the region.

After 1983, during former President Turgut Özal’s era, the relationship improved. In 1997, former leader Necmettin Erbakan made his first visit to Tehran as a Prime Minister. This gesture was considered one of the catalysts of the February 28 intervention that toppled the government of the time.

In the 2000s, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brought the relationship to its best point yet.

Even though he was the target of harsh criticisms from the West, he supported Iran in nuclear negotiations. He voted against sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. While Erdoğan was taking all these steps, he accepted NATO’s missile shield on our land.

In short, Turkey was never a “buddy” of Iran’s, because Iran did not want such a relationship. The reason is that Tehran does not believe in or trust any country but itself.

Before the Syrian incidents erupted, Iran would treat us as a brother while remaining deeply distrustful of Turkey. It would not reveal its true feelings, however. It gave the impression that it respected us. Bashar al-Assad’s struggle caused the path with Ankara to definitively split, as keeping the al-Assad administration in power seemed more important to Iran than maintaining good relations with Turkey.
The Turkish-Iranian relationship has perhaps settled in a more realistic place. Ankara is shifting to the Washington front while Tehran is leading the fight on its own front.

No matter what, when viewing all these zigzags, it is not very difficult to come to a conclusion that those in power in Turkey, especially the media, do not know Iran very well.

Iran has a culture that invented chess
In Turkey, there is either general applause for Iran or general scorn. The number of those who can assess Iran for what it actually as is is very few, and very ineffective.

We are forgetting some factors: Iran is a descendant of the Persian Empire. It cannot be defeated easily, it cannot be fooled.

When you review Iranian foreign policy closely, you will immediately recognize that they are very sharp. They have been twisting the Western world, primarily the U.S., around their little finger for 22 years.

Just look how they manage their nuclear politics. Is there another country in the world that fine-tunes its foreign policy so well and conducts it with this much success?

We should not underestimate Iran.

Of course, this does not mean “succumbing.”

Let’s not forget, Iran is the country that invented the game of chess.

This country can be ruled by a dictator as the shah, or it can be ruled by religious leaders; the texture of Iran is different. It is not like Saudi Arabia or Egypt.

October/20/2012

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