By Sophia Moropoulos
This time last year the West was looking, maybe even hoping, for a new dichotomy between Turkey and Iran. In the throes of the Arab Spring, Turkey became host to the NATO missile shield and began supporting the Syrian opposition. Iran, in contrast, was in support of the Assad regime, and took the well-placed hint from NATO. In Iraq, while sectarian conflict was on the rise and the US began to withdraw, Turkey and Iran supported opposite parties. In Bahrain, critics chastised the two countries for furthering an age-old Ottoman rivalry.
Turkey has successfully played middle man to the East and West. During the Iran-Iraq conflict, Turkey was continually pro-democratic (versus Iranian anti-Westernism) yet, supported the new Islamic government and refused to get between the US and its neighbor when it came to sanctions. Subsequently, Turkey gained the gas contract with Iran but also began enhancing their relationship with Israel.
Currently, Turkey has proven they will not take an aggressive stance against Iran. This is despite the fact that, Iranian possession of a nuclear weapon would upset the regional balance of power and Turkey has stated as much. Yet, Turkish officials have taken a far more cautious approach than the US. Turkey has continually refused to place sanctions on Iran but has continued opposing their neighbor’s role in Syria.
Basically, nothing has changed between Turkey and Iran. We have to look all the way back to the Ottoman-Qajar War to find a time when these two were in direct conflict. Like any state, especially a liberal democratic one, Turkey is busy maintaining and increasing security. Knowing this, we should not expect Turkey to come to arms against Iran unless it is in their best interest. In essence, because the West is comfortably removed from the Iranian issue and the immediate effects of the Arab Spring; it is difficult for us to see through Turkey’s lens when dealing with Iran.
Perhaps the West should leave well enough alone between Turkey and Iran. Turkey plays a vital role in the Middle East. No one else can have that spot; nobody is even in the market for it. It would seem that it is in the best interest of the West to let Turkey negotiate as they have been. It is evidentially in Turkey’s best interest.
Sophia is a first year master’s candidate at the Whitehead School and a blog writer for the Whitehead Journal.