Turkey-Iran relations

What is behind the hostility between Iran and Turkey?

Written by Editor

Journalist Birce Bora published an article on the reason behind the hostility between Iran and Turkey?

Diplomatic tensions between Iran and Turkey will not result in an actual confrontation due to the vast economic ties between the regional rivals, Turkish analysts say.

As both regional rivals compete for a greater share of influence in the region, the Syrian government’s victory in Aleppo, coupled with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group’s diminishing presence in Iraq, has brought tensions between them to the boil.


“The tensions between Turkey and Iran did not appear out of the blue,” said Atilla Yesilada, a political analyst with Istanbul’s Global Source Partners.

“This rivalry had been simmering beneath the surface for a very long time. Recent developments in Syria and Iraq simply forced the two countries to be more overtly aggressive against each other,” Yesilada told Al Jazeera.

WATCH: Munich security conference ends with opposing views on the Middle East (2:12)

Over the past week, diplomatic tensions have escalated between regional rivals Turkey and Iran after Ankara blamed Tehran of pursuing a sectarian agenda and destabilising the Middle East.

Regional politics may cause tensions between the two countries, but in the lght of their strong economic ties, I don’t believe the recent escalation in diplomatic tensions is going to lead to a serious confrontation”

Erdem Aydin, Bogazici University

Turkey ‘s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Iran of trying to split Iraq and Syria by resorting to “Persian nationalism”, while Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, criticised what he called Iran’s “sectarian policy” aimed at undermining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

“Iran is trying to create two Shia states in Syria and Iraq. This is very dangerous. It must be stopped,” Cavusoglu said at the Munich conference on 19 February.

In response, Iran summoned the Turkish ambassador over these remarks and warned Turkey that its patience “had limits”, and if Turkish officials continue making such statements “it will not remain silent”.

Turkey and Iran have been on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria, with Ankara seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran being, along with Russia, his key backer.

And in Iraq, Turkey claims that it has a “historical responsibility” to protect the country’s Sunni and Turkmen minorities from Iran-backed Shia militias who are in the region to fight ISIL. Iran, on the other hand, alongside with Iraq’s government, views Turkey’s involvement in the conflict and military presence in the country as an “incursion”.

“Turkey acts as the protector of Sunnis in the region, while Iran wants to build a Shia circle of influence all the way from Tehran to Lebanon, so it is inevitable for these two regional powers to clash,” Yesilada added.

READ MORE: What is Turkey trying to achieve in Iraq?

Yesilada explained that as ISIL is steadily losing large swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria, a significant power vacuum is forming along Turkey’s southeastern border, causing Iran and Turkey to clash over who is going to replace the dominant force in the area.

“ISIL is about to leave the stage for good, and Turkey is extremely worried about its replacement,” Yesilada said. “If it doesn’t act immediately and forcefully, Iran-backed militias, Bashar al-Assad or the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group Turkey considers to be a terrorist organisation, can take over territories previously controlled by ISIL.”

“Turkey does not want another enemy at the gates, so it is making its position known to Iran, clearly and loudly.”

Iran, on the other hand, is actively working towards ending Turkey’s ongoing military presence in Iraq and Syria, to make sure its allies keep controlling the area, analysts said.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign affairs adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently said Turkish troops should immediately retreat from Iraq and Syria or the people would “kick them out”.

About the author



Leave a Comment