Turkey: Turkey's Relations with Iran, Syria, Israel, and Russia, 1991-2000: The Kurdish and Islamist Questions

By Bishku, Michael B. | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Turkey: Turkey's Relations with Iran, Syria, Israel, and Russia, 1991-2000: The Kurdish and Islamist Questions


Bishku, Michael B., The Middle East Journal


Turkey's Relations with Iran, Syria, Israel, and Russia, 1991-2000: The Kurdish and Islamist Questions, by Robert Olson. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 2001. xix + 204 pages. Bibl. to p. 222. Index to p. 232. $19.95 paper.

This work is the second volume in a series on Kurdish studies whose general editor is the author. The first, The Kurdish Question and Turkish-Iranian Relations: From World War I to 1998, also written by Olson, was published in 1998; it emphasized developments from the beginning of Iran's Islamic revolution through the Persian Gulf War of 1991, while half of the book under review is devoted to Turkish-Iranian relalions since that time. Olson is also the author of The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion, 18801925 (University of Texas Press, 1989) and the editor of The Kurdish National Movement in the 1990s: Its Impact on Turkey and the Middle East (University Press of Kentucky, 1996), as well as the author of numerous journal articles on the politics of the Kurds during the last decade, some material from which he has utilized for this book.

Olson contends, as he did in the previous work in the series, that the foreign policies of both Turkey and Iran can best be explained by using the concept of "omni-- balancing," a decade-old theory developed by Steven R. David, which differs from "balance of power" theory in that it also takes into account internal threats to Third World regimes as a motivation for developing alignments.' Olson also states that "omni-- balancing" applies to the foreign policy of Syria and implies that it does to that of Russia as well. His emphasis on Turkish-Iranian relations reflects the fact that, during the 20th century, Kurdish nationalism was a very important element in the domestic and foreign politics of both countries. During the last decade, this has continued to be the case. With the rise of political Islam in Turkey, that country's leaders were concerned about possible cooperation between the Islamists and the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as well as Iranian assistance to either or both of these groups. Olson does not deal with Turkish-Iraqi relations, despite the fact that Kurds account for over 20% of Iraq's population, about the same percentage as in Turkey.2 He notes that to do so "would have demanded a full investigation of U.S. policies in the Middle East, including Israel and Iran" (p. xvi). However, Olson does discuss and analyze Turkey and Iran's respective relations with the Iraqi Kurdish parties.

There is no doubt, as Olson points out in his introduction, that "Kurdish nationalism and its potentially close alignment with Islamist organizations has been the biggest challenge to the state of Turkey since its establishment in 1923" (p. 1). Naturally, three of the six chapters in the book cover Turkish-Iranian relations: one from 1979 to 1997 - although only three pages are devoted to the first twelve years - and two covering developments since 1997; the other chapters deal with Turkish-Syrian relations since 1997, Turkish-Israeli relations since 1995, and Turkish-Russian relations since 1991, respectively. …

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