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Asymmetry of Interest: Turkish-Iranian Relations since 1979, by Eliot Hentov (review)
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Eliot Hentov adopts an “interdisciplinary approach, relying on the general methods of historical source evaluation and borrowing analytical concepts from international relations and foreign policy theory” (p. 9). He also utilizes a balance of comparable Turkish 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 Ankara as a “primary actor” in the Middle East or the wider Islamic world, despite the fact that Turkey was “acutely cognizant of Iranian 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 bilateral political and economic exchanges between Turkey and Iran, are regional and international issues that affect both countries.

Unlike a number of works on the contemporary politics of the Middle East, Hentov — following an introductory chapter titled “An Indefinable Relationship” — provides 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 Islamic 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 together in the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) organization, the Kurdish 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 sanctions over its invasion of Cyprus. However, he does mention a common Iranian joke: “if it were not for Turkey, Iran would be connected to Europe” (p. 39).

Turkey’s neutrality during the Iran-Iraq War ensured Turkey’s supply of oil and external connections for both Iran and Iraq. Hentov asserts that Turkey acted as a conduit for the shipment of Israeli goods and arms to Iran, but that the Iranians were perturbed by Turkish economic “opportunism” (pp. 78–79). Nevertheless, Iran agreed to revive the RCD as the Economic Cooperation Organization though that group was fairly passive until the 1990s, when the end of the Cold War allowed for its expansion into Central Asia. At that time, Hentov contends, the “dimensions” of the Turkish-Iranian rivalry in that latter region were “exaggerated” (p. 142). Indeed, Russia’s reassertion of dominance in Central Asia placed Turkey and Iran in secondary roles. The 1990s did, however, bring tension between the two Middle Eastern countries over Iran’s (and Syria’s) support of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkish Islamist groups. At the same time, the Turkish military developed close cooperation with Israel. Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan tried but failed during his brief tenure (1996–97) to improve relations with Iran. Indeed, Iran’s interference in Turkish affairs served as partial justification for his removal from office under military pressure. A couple of years later, the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, which signaled for a time the defeat of the Kurdish insurgency, allowed Turkey to deal with its economic problems, resulting in a politically unpopular International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity program. The November 2002 parliamentary elections that brought the Islamist AKP to power and that government’s subsequent popular decision not to support the US in the Iraq War, along with the pragmatic Iranian presidency of Mohammad Khatami smoothed over relations. The AKP adopted Professor (and later Foreign...

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