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      Turkey and Iran: Between Friendly Competition and Fierce Rivalry



            The article starts by stressing the distinctive features of Turkish-Iranian relations. It argues that in order to understand the different stages in Turkish-Iranian relations one needs to define the fine line between competition and rivalry, which are usually used interchangeably. It explains the common concerns that united and fostered cooperation between Turkey and Iran as well as the differences that persisted after the US invasion of Iraq. Delineating under what sort of conditions Turkey emerged as a competitor in Iraq, it evaluates the main instruments Ankara and Tehran employed in their efforts to affect the future of that country. In an effort to explain why this competition heightened, carrying the risk of transforming the two countries' relationship to a rivalry, it elaborates on both countries' approaches and concerns vis-à-vis Syria and the role of the US in shaping the two countries' interactions.


            Author and article information

            Arab Studies Quarterly
            Pluto Journals
            Winter 2014
            : 36
            : 1
            : 6-26
            © The Center for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies 2013

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            Social & Behavioral Sciences
            US Middle East policy,Kurdish question,Syrian conflict,Turkish-Iranian cooperation,Turkish-Iranian relations,future of Iraq


            1. As an example see, , “Turkish-Iranian Rivalry Redux,” Hurriyet Daily News , October 11, 2011, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-iranian-rivalry-redux.aspx?pageID=449&nID=7422&NewsCatID=424.

            2. , “Turkiye-Iran İliskilerinde Kimlik, Guvenlik, Isbirligi ve Rekabet,” Faruk Sönmezoglu, Nurcan Özgür Baklacioglu Ozlem Terzi der., 21 inci Yüzyilda Turk Dis Politikasi Analizi, Istanbul, Der, 2012, 547–591.

            3. For the balance of threat theory see Stephen , “Alliance Formation and the Balance of World Power,” International Security 9:4 (Spring, 1985), 3–43.

            4. and Singer define stability at system level as “the probability that the system retains all of its essential characteristics; that no single nation becomes dominant; that most of its members continue to survive; and that large-scale war does not occur.” See, and , “Multipolar Power Systems and International Stability,” World Politics 16:3 (1964), 390–406 at 390–391.

            5. In 1635, Sultan Murad IV invaded Revan, Erivan and Baghdad. As Iran demanded peace, in Kasr-i Sirin a treaty was signed. According to the Treaty, Baghdad, Bedre, Hassan, Hanikin, Mendeli, Derne and Sermenel would be given to the Ottomans, while Derbe, Azerbaycan and Revan were left to Iran. This treaty had been invalid until 1722 and after the war ended in 1747, it started to be used again.

            6. , “Essential Friends and Natural Enemies: The Historic Roots of Turkish-Iranian Relations,” Middle East Review of International Affairs 7:3 (September 2003), 116–132.

            7. For Kurdish Rebellions see, , The Making of Modern Turkey: Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia, 1913–1950 , (Oxford University Press, 2011).

            8. , “Turkey and Iran Face off in Kurdistan,” Middle East Quarterly (March 1998), 33–40.

            9. For more information about pan-Islamism, see , The Politics of Pan-Islam: Ideology and Organization (Clarendon Press, 1990).

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            16. and , “Iran's Nuclear Program and Future of U.S.-Iranian Relations,” Middle East Policy 16:1 (2009), 101–117.

            17. For a more detailed discussion on the topic, see , “Iranian Nuclear Crisis and Turkey,” Quaderni di Relazioni Internazionali, Semestrale dell'Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionali (ISPI), No. 12 (April 2010), 85–98; , “An Analysis of Turkish Mediation in the Middle East in an Era of Turmoil,” Dis Politika—Foreign Policy 40th Anniversary Issue , XXXVII:3–4 (2011), 7–25.

            18. For a detailed analysis of the Iranian view of Iraq, see , “Iran's Foreign Policy in Post-invasion Iraq,” Middle East Policy XV:4 (Winter 2008), 47–58.

            19. See “Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan to Further Expand Trade Cooperation,” Fars News , June 10, 2013, http://english2.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=9203180902; and “Iran, Iraq's Kurdistan Region Start Direct Flight,” ICCIMA, Fars News, March 16, 2013, http://en.iccim.ir/news/iccima-news-bulletin/iran-economy-bulletin/item/6656-iran-iraqs-kurdistan-region-start-direct-fights.html.

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            22. , Testimony: “Prospects for Increased Iranian Influence in Iraq,” Brookings , November 15, 2011, http://www.brookings.edu/research/testimony/2011/11/15-iran-iraq-pollack.

            23. , “Erdogan to Obama: You left Iraq in Iran's hands,” Today's Zaman , March 21, 2012, http://www.todayszaman.com/columnists/lale-kemal-274942-erdogan-to-obama-you-left-iraq-in-irans-hands.html.

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            25. , “Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis,” Update 1, December 15–19, 2011, Institute for the Study of War, December 19, 2011, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/iraqs-post-withdrawal-crisis-update-1-december-15-19-2011.

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            27. , “Regional Aspirations and Limits of Power-Turkish-Iranian Relations in the New Middle East,” Etudes Helléniques/Hellenic Studies , Special Issue, Turkey in Search of Regional Hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean (Spring 2012), 85–115.

            28. , “Kurdistan to Increase Oil Production Fivefold,” The Report Company , September 19, 2013, http://www.the-report.net/iraq/kurdistan-region-sep2013/668-oil-kurdistan-to-increase-oil-production-fivefold.

            29. Turkey's state-run Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) has been active in Iraq since 1994 and won contracts for the development of the Badra and Missan Oil Fields in 2009 and gas development contracts for the Siba and Mansuriya gas fields in 2010. In 2010, Turkey and Iraq renewed the duration of this oil pipeline deal for another 15 years.

            30. “Turkey Hits Back at Iraq in Kirkuk Visit Controversy,” Today's Zaman , August 3, 2012, http://www.todayszaman.com/news-288541-turkey-hits-back-at-iraq-in-kirkuk-visit-controversy.html.

            31. , “The Near East: Reflections on Possible Geopolitical Futures,” Open Democracy , January 14, 2013, http://www.opendemocracy.net/samir-yousif/near-east-reflections-on-possible-geopolitical-futures.

            32. “Turkey Shot Down Syrian Helicopter at Border, Deputy PM Says,” Hurriyet Daily News , September 26, 2013, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-shot-down-syrian-helicopter-at-border-deputy-pm-says.aspx?pageID=238&nID=54538&NewsCatID=352.

            33. , and , “A Violent Year in the Life of the Syria-Turkey Border,” The Wall Street Journal , November 20, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303661404579179760868678206.

            34. , “A Kurdish Awakening in Iran,” Haaretz , October 26, 2012, http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/a-kurdish-awakening-in-iran.premium-1.472442.

            35. , “Iraq and Iran Aligned on Syria,” Al Monitor, The Pulse of the Middle East , November 9, 2012, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2012/11/iraq-steps-into-irans-line-on-syria-policy.html.

            36. “Iran Resumes Exporting Goods to Iraqi Kurdistan,” Payvand Iran News, IRNA , March 26, 2013, http://www.payvand.com/news/13/mar/1190.html.

            37. , “Iran Warns Turkey to Butt Out of Syria,” FoxNews.com , July 25, 2011, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/07/25/iran-warns-turkey-to-butt-out-syria/.

            38. “Bülent Arinc'tan Iran'a Elestiri,” TRT Haber , February 6, 2013, http://www.trthaber.com/haber/gundem/bulent-arincin-elestirdigi-iki-ulke-27306.html.

            39. , “Erdoǧan to Obama: You left Iraq in Iran's Hands.”

            40. , “Turkey Dismisses Iranian Threat Against NATO Missile Shield,” Eurasianet , December 13, 2011, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64686.

            41. , “Deployment of NATO Patriot Missiles in Turkey, a Declaration of War on Syria,” Tehran Times , December 28, 2012, http://tehrantimes.com/component/content/article/52-guests/104463-deployment-of-nato-patriot-missiles-in-turkey-a-declaration-of-war-on-syria.

            42. , “Reopening Turkey's Closed Kurdish Opening?,” Middle East Policy Council 20:2 (Summer 2013), 88–98.

            43. , “Turkey's Kurdish Peace Initiative Linked to Syria,” Al Monitor, The Pulse of the Middle East , March 18, 2013, http://www.almonitor.com/pulse/fa/contents/articles/opinion/2013/03/erdogan-peace-imrali-process-ocalan-kurdish-issue.html. See also, “Turkey's Multiple Kurdish Dilemmas—Syria, Iraq and at Home; How They Are Related, and Where They Might Lead,” ORSAM, Ortadogu Etutleri 5:1 (July 2013), 41–63, www.orsam.org.tr/en/enUploads/Article/Files/201396_makale2.pdf.

            44. , “The Game Changer: Syria, Iran, and Kurdish Independence,” World Affairs , May/June 2013, http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/game-changer-syria-iran-and-kurdish-independence.

            45. , “Iran Cautious of Turkey's Kurdish Approach,” Al Monitor, The Pulse of the Middle East , March 20, 2013, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2013/03/iran-cautious-turkey-kurds.html.

            46. , “Iran Feature: Kurdish Movement PJAK Threatens President Rouhani with a ‘Second Syria’,” EAWorldView , August 19, http://eaworldview.com/2013/08/iran-today-kurdish-pjak-leader-threatens-rouhani/.

            47. “Syrian Refugees in Turkish Camps Reach 200,000,” World Bulletin , November 20, 2013, http://www.worldbulletin.net/?aType=haber&ArticleID=123301.

            48. , “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins,” The New York Times , August 24, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/opinion/sunday/in-syria-america-loses-if-either-side-wins.html?_r=0.

            49. , “Turkey Should Consider a Political Solution in Syria,” Al Monitor, The Pulse of the Middle East , March 8, 2013, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/tr/contents/articles/politics/2013/03/turkey-syria-solution.html.


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