When Foreign Policy Matters: The Gulen Movement's Fight with the AK Party over Iran

By Balci, Ali | Insight Turkey, Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

When Foreign Policy Matters: The Gulen Movement's Fight with the AK Party over Iran


Balci, Ali, Insight Turkey


The last quarter of 2013 brought with it an unprecedented dramatic power struggle in Turkey. The ruling Islam-friendly party was challenged by an Islamic movement for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic. Given the fact that the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) and the Gulen movement had been in cooperation against the tutelary role of Turkey's state bureaucracy since the AK Party's coming to power in 2002, the tug-of-war between these two actors is quite intriguing. Instead of explaining the roots of this power struggle, (1) however, this paper will explore the conditions under which Iran emerged at the center of the conflict between the AK Party and the Gulen movement. Through this exploration, I aim to prove that foreign policy in Turkey is inextricably linked to domestic power relations.

To speak in theoretical terms, (2) the role of discourses on foreign policy in constructing the first pro- and later anti-AK Party identity among the followers of the Gulen movement is the main topic of this paper. Since a comprehensive answer to this question would require an insurmountable amount of work, ranging from studying the representation of Ottoman history to that of the American in the Gulen movement's documents, this paper will be limited to an analysis of discourses on the AK Party's relations with Iran. The limitation of the scope of this paper does not imply reductionism, because there is no such thing as a free, neutral, independent statement. Any statement on the AK Party's relations with Iran made by a follower of the Gulen movement always belongs to a series or a whole, and always plays a role among other statements raised by the Gulen movement's followers on other issues. (3) Therefore, studying a specific issue does not reduce the merit of any study aiming to illustrate the general rules of a discursive battle between two competing power blocks. Indeed, studying a specific portion of the discourse in some detail sheds illustrative light upon the whole.

The Paradox

In December 2006, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister and the leader of the AK Party, paid a visit to Iran amid a crisis stemming from the West's uneasiness about Iran's uranium enrichment policy. In addition to negotiations on nuclear issues, Erdogan also put energy issues on the table, and met with Ayatollah Seyyid Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. This visit was followed by a crisis over suspension of gas supplies by Iran to Turkey, accompanied by an excuse that these supplies were needed for meeting Iran's own domestic gas demand. Although Iran had promised to supply Turkey with 27 million-28 million cubic meters of gas per day under a contract signed in 1996, Tehran reduced Turkey's gas supply 10-fold to about 2.5 million cubic meters in late December 2006, then stopped all supplies completely in the beginning of January 2007. Despite the timing of these events, the Zaman, a Turkish daily and the main media outlet of the Gulen movement, portrayed Erdogan's meeting with Khamenei as an ordinary occurrence (4) and did not raise any criticism against the so-called expensive price of Iranian gas during Erdogan's visit to Tehran. When Iran reduced and then stopped gas supplies to Turkey, the Zaman presented this as a necessity stemming from Iran's domestic needs. (5) The Zaman also hosted many reports in order to prove that Turkey faced no crisis due to Iran's decision to stop the gas supply. (6)

In January 2014, Erdogan paid another visit to Iran amid a domestic crisis that escalated with skyrocketing speed after a major corruption probe against the AK Party government began in December 17, 2013. In a report titled "Scandal in Iranian Gas," the Zaman strongly criticized the government's policy regarding natural gas on the grounds that Ankara had missed an opportunity to buy Azerbaijani gas at $450 per 1.000 cubic meters, and instead was importing Iranian gas at a price of $490 per 1. …

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