Wrangling with Iran

Tension between Turkey and Iran has been escalating as the two countries, not traditional allies, have been striving with mixed success toward political and, above all, economic cooperation. According to the Turkish press, the primary cause of the strain, affecting every aspect of Turkish-Iranian relations, is Iranian-sponsored terrorism.

Bedri Baykam wrote in Istanbul’s liberal Aksam (May 25), “It is obvious that...Iran has tried to impose its Sharia system on the whole Middle East through a logic of ‘revolution for export.’ ”

In January, Turkish police raided a house occupied by Hezbollah, a Turkish Islamist organization with no known relationship to the Lebanese group of the same name, suspected of operating with Iran’s backing. Since then, anger toward Iran has grown. It appears that, in addition to mass graves containing remains of about 60 people, evidence has been emerging that Hezbollah conducted a campaign of assassinations of well-known secular journalists and intellectuals.

Tufan Turenc wrote in Istanbul’s independent Hurriyet (May 27) that everyone in Turkey “knows that Iran had its finger in the massacre of... Turkish intellectuals.” Commentators also frequently accuse Iran of aiding the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). Iran has disputed all the allegations.

Baykam registered his disappointment in Foreign Affairs Minister Ismail Cem for his overly “naive and passive” attitude. The columnist a-verred that suspension of diplomatic ties with Iran would be the least of necessary reactions.

While Turenc also claimed the “mullah regime” has been lying, he cautioned, “Iran is our neighbor.” He said that a war would not benefit either nation and urged Turkish support for Iranian reformists now working to undermine the mullahs.

From the other side of the political spectrum, Ahmet Ridvan of the Istanbul’s Islamist Yeni Safak (May 27) asserted that the enmity toward Iran is a result of Turkey’s submission to “imperialist” interests. He warned that Turkey must not poison its relationship with the Islamic republic, as it needs Iran for a continuing role in Central Asia.

Ridvan placed great emphasis on the importance of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), a trade organization of Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and several Central Asian countries.

Decrying the Turkish president’s decision not to attend the Tehran meeting of ECO, Ridvan asked, “What kind of hysterical obsession with secularism would cause our country to be isolated from...the region, and to sabotage its trade?”

The plot thickened further when, at the beginning of June, Ahmed Behbahani, an Iranian defector in Turkey, claimed to be a former Iranian intelligence agent. Behbahani claimed to have evidence of Iran’s involvement in the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1996 bombing of U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia. Ismet Berkan of Istanbul’s liberal Radikal (June 7) recommended skepticism, as Beh-bahani is seeking refugee status in the United States. And indeed, in later reports, the CIA discounted Behbahani’s claims.