MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS-Asymmetry of Interest: Turkish-Iranian Relations since 1979

By Bishku, Michael B. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS-Asymmetry of Interest: Turkish-Iranian Relations since 1979


Bishku, Michael B., The Middle East Journal


MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS Asymmetry of Interest: Turkish-Iranian Relations since 1979, by Eliot Hentov. Saarbrücken: Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing, 2012. 296 pages. $103 paper.

Eliot Hentov adopts an "interdisciplinary approach, relying on the general methods of historical source evaluation and borrowing analytical concepts from international rela- tions and foreign policy theory" (p. 9). He also utilizes a balance of comparable Turk- ish and Iranian sources. Hentov attributes the "asymmetry" reference to the fact that until the November 2002 elections when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey, Tehran did not view An- kara as a "primary actor" in the Middle East or the wider Islamic world, despite the fact that Turkey was "acutely cognizant of Ira- nian actions" (p. 4). During the first couple of decades of the Islamic Republic, this was due in large part to Turkey's rigid Western orientation. Naturally, the determinants of this relationship, in addition to the historical legacy of the Ottoman and Persian Empires (especially of concern to the shahs) and bi- lateral political and economic exchanges be- tween Turkey and Iran, are regional and in- ternational issues that affect both countries.

Unlike a number of works on the con- temporary politics of the Middle East, Hen- tov - following an introductory chapter titled "An Indefinable Relationship" - pro- vides thorough historical background on Turkish-Iranian relations with an emphasis on the 20th century up until the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), when Turkey and Iran felt compelled to cooperate closely. Had it not been for that conflict, Hentov points out, relations between the two countries would have deteriorated significantly, for the Is- lamic Republic had viewed Turkey's 1980 military coup as beneficial to the United States. While Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Reza Shah emphasized mutual cooperation and following their respective tenures, the Cold War brought the two countries togeth- er in the Central Treaty Organization (CEN- TO) and the Regional Cooperation for De- velopment (RCD) organization, the Kurd- ish issue was irritant in that relationship; Turkey regarded Kurdish separatism as its greatest national security threat, while Iran was sometimes passive or negligent, and at other times supportive (at least within Iraq) of Kurdish activities. Hentov does not delve into Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's jealousy of the attention given to Turkey by the West (especially by the United States) prior to the mid-1970s, when oil prices were on the rise and Turkey was plagued with economic problems and political violence as well as isolated by American and European sanc- tions over its invasion of Cyprus. However, he does mention a common Iranian joke: "if it were not for Turkey, Iran would be con- nected to Europe" (p. 39).

Turkey's neutrality during the Iran-Iraq War ensured Turkey's supply of oil and ex- ternal connections for both Iran and Iraq. Hentov asserts that Turkey acted as a con- duit for the shipment of Israeli goods and arms to Iran, but that the Iranians were perturbed by Turkish economic "opportun- ism" (pp. 78-79). Nevertheless, Iran agreed to revive the RCD as the Economic Co- operation Organization though that group was fairly passive until the 1990s, when the end of the Cold War allowed for its expansion into Central Asia. …

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