Iran, Russia should step in for Turkish journalists

Iran, Russia should step in for Turkish journalists

Long gone are the days when Turkey used its good relations with Syria and Iran to help release hostages, be it an Israeli soldier like Gilad Shalit or Western journalists.

Currently, two Turkish journalists, Adem Özköse and Hamit Coşkun, have been in the hands of the Syrian regime for more than a month.

Syria’s message is clear, “You mess with me, and I’ll mess with you.” It is only natural to expect Bashar al-Assad’s Syria to adopt such a stance since Turkey appears to be leading the countries that want to see the collapse of his regime. And there is not much Turkey can do additionally as far as Syria is concerned since it has already adopted a hostile stance.

But what is to be expected – though not accepted lightly – is the Iranian stance. Despite Turkey’s numerous demands, the Iranians have not moved a finger for the release of the Turkish journalists. It is a clearly known fact to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government that the journalists could be released in a matter of hours if only Iran asked for it. So these journalists are held hostage not just by Syria but by Iran as well.

There is clear Iranian hostility toward Turkey. Iran’s message is clear: “Syria is an existential issue for me. I won’t hesitate to harm the ‘enemies al-Assad’s regime.’”

Iran’s inaction on the plight of Turkish journalists should set the limit to Turkey’s stance of downplaying the current rivalry with Iran. Tehran should be told there is a limit to Turkey’s patience (or the AKP’s naïveté I should say). Yet this message will not come across if the AKP officials keep paying visits to Tehran and smile to the cameras as if everything is fine between the two countries. While Iranians are smiling to the cameras they keep hitting below the belt.

Turkey should similarly take notice of the Russian indifference to the plight of Turkish journalists, for if Moscow wanted to do so, it could have persuaded Syria to release them. Russia’s message is clear too: “I like that you have become an economic power since you buy more gas and oil from me and it makes you dependent on me for nuclear energy. But I really don’t like it when you start feeling like a global power and messing with my interests in the region. You want to be a global power? Then get ready for the messy business, which can target your own citizens.”

Until now, Turkey preferred to ignore major disagreements with Russia on the political front. Turkey said, “Let’s agree to disagree but continue business as usual.” But, although Turkey and Russia may have major disagreements on the future of Syria, Moscow should not have abstained from making a simple gesture to Ankara, for this is what the gist of relations call for: Booming economic relations – with a trade deficit in favor of Russia – despite disagreements on “non-vital” political issues. Syria is not an existential issue for Russia as it is to Iran. So Turkey should express and take an action to make its discontent felt by Russia (by slowing down the construction of the nuclear power plant project, for instance). Moscow should get the message that there are limits to Ankara’s patience to Russian disregard for Turkey’s political priorities, and the well-being of its citizens being held hostage is certainly one of them.