IMESS-IPSA-ORSAM Joint Seminar on “Iran and Turkeys Strategic Relations in the Light of the Regional Developments” IMESS-IPSA-ORSAM Joint Seminar on “Iran and Turkey's Strategic Relations in the Light of the Regional Developments”
On April 27, 2015, the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS), in the Iranian Political Science Association (IPSA) and the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) held a joint seminar on “Iran and Turkey's strategic relations in the light of the regional developments.” The IMESS resident and visiting fellows, as well as a n...


IMESS-IPSA-ORSAM Joint Seminar on “Iran and Turkey's Strategic Relations in the Light of the Regional Developments”

April 27, 2015
On April 27, 2015, the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS), in the Iranian Political Science Association (IPSA) and the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) held a joint seminar on “Iran and Turkey's strategic relations in the light of the regional developments.” The IMESS resident and visiting fellows, as well as a number of Ph.D. and postgraduate students from different universities in Tehran attended the seminar. From the IMESS’ side, Director of IMESS Dr. Kayhan Barzegar, and Deputy Director of IMESS Dr. Hamid Ahmadi, and from the ORSAM’s side, Director of ORSAM Dr. Şaban Kardaş and Dr. Mesut Özcan exchanged their views on the afore-mentioned subject.
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Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Welcome to the Institute for the Middle East Strategic Studies. This is a privilege to have our Turkish friends from Ankara and Istanbul universities. This is a joint session with the Iranian Political Science Association (IPSA), and the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) of Ankara. The significance of today's session is because of the fact that Iran and Turkey are two important countries. While the region is in turmoil, the two states have shown a great deal of stability and regional cooperation. Therefore, what are the aims and strategies of these two countries or what is the future of these two countries' relations in the regional issues are something that we are going to discuss in today's session. It is a privilege to introduce our friends from Turkey: Dr. Şaban Kardaş is the Director of ORSAM, the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in Ankara. He is also a faculty member at the department of the international relations at TOBB University of Economics and Technology. Then, we have our friends from diplomatic institute in Ankara. Excuse me if it is not very precise; Dr. Mesut Özcan is from there and we are happy to listen to him. At the same time, we have Dr. Hamid Ahmadi, a senior researcher at this institute and professor of political science at Tehran University. My name is Kayhan Barzegar. I teach international relations and I am the director of this institute. It is a privilege also to mention that Ambassador Reza Hakan Tekin from the Turkish Embassy is also here. At some point, I will ask Mr. Ambassador to kindly address us at some point. Therefore, this is what we are going to do. About the format of the session, each speaker will talk in 10 minutes or less, much better, and then we will have Q & A session. OK, we can start with our Turkish friends from ORSAM, Dr. Kardaş, if you can please let us know about the Turkish view of the regional strategic dynamics, in 10 minutes, please.

Dr. Şaban Kardaş: Thanks a lot. This is actually my second time here. Almost a year ago, we were here with another academic delegation from Turkey. We were demanding for exchange of ideas about the region. Since then we see there are new emerging dynamics; some of them that were around are getting stronger and some of them are disappearing. Today we are in Tehran on another trip and I guess for the last two days, we had a fruitful exchange of Turkish-Iranian relations. We are trying to understand how the two countries see the region, the international system as well as bilateral relations. Now, we are also privileged to be here to share our own perspectives with such a distinguished audience. Briefly, I will try to outline Turkey's conception of the regional order, the ongoing transformation and transition in the regional order and what it means for Turkey in what Turkey seeks to try. Then, Mr. Özcan also addresses the same question from a different angle. Probably, he can talk more about the Turkey's strategies than I can. 

When talking about the regional order and Turkey's policy vis-à-vis the regional order and current transformation, I think it is important to start with a small background in a sense that before understanding the current policy of the transition phase. It will be useful to go one step back and look at what Turkey's regional policy was before the regional transformation process did start and in that sense, you should look at the proactive Turkish foreign policy vis-à-vis the Middle East in the last ten years or so. In my own academic studies, I have always argued that in order to understand Turkey's Middle East policies, actually we have to look at the broader foreign policy especially what I call the regional policy of Turkey because unlike other countries, Turkey is a multiregional country in a sense that it is a part of different regions at the same time. In that sense, the regional policies Turkey pursues in the Middle East are more of the same policies in terms of the principles, the underlying philosophy of it in other regions such as the Balkans, the Black Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean context or Caucasus; when it comes to the Middle East, there are unique characteristics which you should also take into consideration. 

In my own understanding, Turkey's regional policies, in the last 10-20 years, have been based on the neoliberal understanding of international relations: It is a region about integration, solving regional problems through neo-functional institutions and in this sense, based on regional solutions to regional problems and that became quite accentuated in the Middle East in the last 10 years or so. In that policy, we see Turkey using different instruments; sometimes it is the economic instruments; sometimes it is the political instruments but increasingly in the last 5-6 years, we see Turkey is also using cultural instruments as part of its regional strategies. In terms of economics, Turkey's main objective is to create zones of economic interaction, zones of free trade, zones of more intraregional investment and especially before the Arab Spring, Turkey did sign several agreements with the neighboring countries to initiate such free trade areas in the region. At the same time, we see Turkey has been using the political instrument as part of its regional policies. On the one hand, Turkey has been quite active in promoting regional conflict resolution; as a result, Turkey was trying to act as a regional peace broker in different conflicts or crises. On the other hand, we see a deliberate policy of fostering high-level strategic political dialogue and in the last few years, Turkey established several high-level strategic cooperation councils with different neighbors, recently with Iran. It seems their mechanism has also been initiated. At the cultural level, we see Turkey trying to promote greater level and degree of interpersonal exchanges between Turkey and its neighbors, visa liberalization agreements, other cultural instruments such as the Yunus Emre Foundation which has been also operating in the Middle East including in Tehran. We are part of Turkey's cultural pillar of regional policies. That region, as I said, was based on intraregional cooperation, intraregional integration.
 
When came the Arab Spring, the transformation process was welcomed by Turkey because Turkey hoped that the regional transformation in the Middle East, in different countries was a delayed one for many years. Because of different geopolitical dynamics and the existing regimes, the regional societies could not have their views translated into political outcome. With the possible political transformation, Turkey foresaw that there could be a better regional environment in which the integration vision could also be realized and Turkey decided to support the regional transformation since the late 2010 to 2011. As we all know, the Arab Spring went through different phases; now, we are talking more about the winter conditions than a spring one, then the challenges of the process are more visible than the opportunities. As a result, Arab Spring process has been a major test for Turkey's regional policies and revision of the regional order. In this process, we see that the regional order itself is transforming; it is being eroded in many directions. As a result, Turkey is forced to respond to those challenges which I will discuss briefly later. 

But let me first again briefly talk about different dimensions of the transformation of the regional order. Firstly, we see the issue of the borders coming up on the agenda. The borders are increasingly questioned in the Middle East in different senses. On the one hand, we see that the borders are less and less relevant. The border between Iraq and Syria is practically speaking none existent from the traditional point of view of the borders but on the other hand, we also see that the existing borders are questioned in the sense of redrawing borders; some states possible dismemberment, creation of new states out of the existing ones; these are all becoming part of the political discussions. This is a big challenge to everybody in the region equally in Turkey. Secondly, we see a second dimension in a sense that the state authority, the sovereignty of the existing nation-states in the region is reduced and eroded and this is creating a lot of challenges for many countries. The authorities that are sitting in Damascus or Baghdad are no longer able to control the entire territories. Their say is limited to certain chunks of the country but in the rest of the country, we see other competing authorities emerging. As a result, (thirdly) we see the emergence and also empowerment of sub-states identities and actors and this is also undermining the regional order but nation-states as well. In this process, especially the ethnic, sectarian identities and groups are becoming more and more visible. This is creating a lot of pressure on the existing states. 

Also, in the region we see the lack of - this is another dimension - conflict resolution mechanisms both regionally and also internationally. Traditionally in the Middle East we know that the external powers, the extra regional powers used to provide security in terms of suppressing violence and solving regional crises but this has been less so increasingly and then the region itself did lack effective conflict resolution mechanisms which we can say is a problem these days and in the context of a lack of credible conflict resolution mechanism, we have seen growing amount and degree of intraregional rivalry among the regional powers which has worsened the security vacuum in the region so to speak. And lastly, we see the issue of socioeconomic transformation. There has been unfortunately no credible framework to manage socioeconomic and political transition. As a result, we are going to a mismanaged political transition which is deepening the entire set of problems which I discussed. Now, why Turkey is so much active in this region? This is the question. How many minutes do I have? One or two minutes?
Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Well, you have exactly 56 seconds.
Dr. Şaban Kardaş: OK. Why is Turkey so active? Why is it on top of many issues? I think the main reason Turkey is so active is to respond to this regional transformation which has also a very acute security dimension. Turkey's objective is to uphold the regional order on a more stable foundation. As I said earlier, Turkey's objective is to have a vision of integration but unfortunately currently the strong dynamics in the region are more in favor of disintegration than integration while Turkey has always insisted on resolving regional disputes, avoiding sectarian or other disputes. These identities are becoming more visible, more accentuated and they are deriving from the conflicts. So increasingly in the region we see disintegration, fragmentation, radicalization and militarization. So, in a sense, Turkey's efforts are responses to this tectonic transformation whereby Turkey is trying to reduce the level of tension and contribute to the regional order. Here as the last point, let me underline that especially in this era of regional transformation the need to achieve stable and functioning state structures. That is also becoming a very major corner of Turkey's policy. Turkey realizes that in order for us to have a more stable sustainable regional order, first and for most we have to have sustainable state structures. Unfortunately, they are weakening in the region but what we need to do first is to maintain the territorial integrity of the existing states but also empower the state structures. These are big challenges and Mr. Özcan will discuss in more details Turkey's strategies to deal with such challenges.

Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Thank you Dr. Kardaş, seeing the issue from Turkish perspective. If you allow me Dr. Ahmadi, I start to raise a few points that I would like to put it more in Iran-Turkey strategic relations. I have three points that I would like to share with you. First is how this identity politics is shifting towards state security. I think this is important in Iran-Turkey relations. Second is the concept of consistency in the regional policy of the two states, how the aims and principles can be discussed here and third is the roots of Iran's regional policy which is based on regional cooperation. What is the logic behind Iran's policy in this regard and I think from this perspective, Iran and Turkey have a duty to increase relations between the two states. But let me begin by putting the issue in a broader regional dynamic. I think there is a change in the nature of states in the Arab world and this brings a lot of new dynamics for both Iran and Turkey. Of course this change is different from one state to another state but I think history identity, traditional regional relations and the demands of domestic politics matter a lot in this dynamic. 

Here, I think these changes in the nature of states in the region will bring a lot of new dynamics for Iran and Turkey strategic relations and I believe that this is important to how to battle the extremism in the region and I think at the end of the day Iran and Turkey will have to increase their relations and this is, as Şaban mentioned very well, I think this danger is coming from the collapse of the political borders in the region, as it is the case in Iraq and Syria. The emergence of the Daesh, with the so-called Islamic states of Iraq and Sham or the Islamic State that is somehow bringing Islamic Khalifat. This is also dangerous and as a result of these two elements, the increasing atmosphere of fear and terror in the region that is somehow damaging the regional stability consequently the regional economic growth and political reform which matters for both Turkey and Iran. Altogether I think because of these, a new kind of state-ism is emerging and that is to go back to the principles of a state. 
Here I think the two states of Turkey and Iran, because of having very strong nation states and at the same time, powerful bureaucratic institutions, are playing the most important role in shaping the regional dynamics. What I wanted to say is that we see a shift in methodology of analyzing the regional issues. It is going from identity politics towards state security and states' interests. 

If you look at Iran's, for instance, reactions to the Iraqi situation, the danger of Daesh going to Baghdad and Erbil, in my belief, it was a state reaction not necessarily supporting the Shiites in Iraq. When the Iraqi state was on the verge of collapse in the country, then Iran reacted fast. Therefore, in my belief, it was the issue of national security not identity politics or if you look at the Turkish reactions to the Kobani's issue, you will see that the Turkish state reacted in a way that wanted to preserve the Turkish national interest. Therefore, what I wanted to say is that how we see this identity politics shifting towards state security and that is important for the future of Turkey and Iran's relations. 

The second issue is the issue of consistency in the regional policy of the two states. Here I think this is related to much extend to the demands and capacity of domestic politics of the two states in the region of course, of course Iran and Turkey at the top of it. I think these two issues of consistency in the state of Turkey and the state of Iran are different. In Iran, of course we discuss a lot about the Iranian regional policy relating it to the establishing of political coalition or deterrence or missiles or other issues that Iran is powerful in shaping this but we should not ignore the fact that the Iranian domestic politics is in favor of Iran's regional policy. That is why I think Iran's policy in Iraq, Syria and Yemen is actually very popular. Of course in Syria we had some problems at the beginning of the crisis, how the Syrian government handled the situation but now when the issue is connected to terrorist issue, then the issue is becoming very popular. Therefore, what I wanted to say is that active political presence in the regional issues is something that is related to Iran's domestic politics and it is the domestic politics and domestic political forces that are supporting the states' principles and aims in going ahead with the regional policy. This might be different from a Turkish point of view. Of course our Turkish friends should develop this idea but I think Turkey has some constraints in connecting the domestic politics with foreign regional policy principles and that is why I think there is some kind of difference between these two states but of course this could be a privilege anyway because domestic politics, having a domestic dynamic politics will favor states decisions in going to some regional policy or not. But I think this issue of consistency connecting regional policy to domestic politics is different in the case of Iran and Turkey. Of course again our Turkish friends should develop this idea. 

My third point is about the logic behind Iran's regional cooperation strategy. I think this is a strong concept in Iran's regional policy and this comes from the fact that Iran sees strategic stability in the region in an increased regional cooperation, not increased cooperation between Iran or America or Iran and the West. This will bring a very strong sense of cooperation between Iran and Turkey. Why is this strategy of regional cooperation in Iran's foreign policy? I think it is because of the fact that Iran would like to follow independent approaches in dealing with regional issues. The concept of inclusive government is becoming very strong in Iran's regional policy and that is because of the fact that Iran would like to shape the politics in the region based on the realities of domestic politics of states' subject of change in the Arab world. I mean the national and the people's demands are important in Iran's regional strategy here if we accept that the nature of states is changing. Therefore, I think unlike the conventional wisdom, the Iranian approach towards the Yemeni crisis is not based on balancing Saudi Arabia's power I think. It is more to support an independent state, an inclusive state in Yemen which is able to increase regional cooperation and even here I think Iran is ready to interact with Saudi Arabia and other opposing states in this case to shape an inclusive government. I mean I am trying to explain the base of Iran's regional policy; that is why Iran has Iraqi solution for the Iraqi crisis; Yemeni solution for the Yemeni crisis; Syrian solution for the Syrian crisis and Egyptian solution for the Egyptian crisis. 

The second characteristic in my belief is that Iran would not like to stand between the region and the West. Nowadays we are talking about the nuclear deal and the question is if this nuclear deal will be at the expense of regional interest or relations. I do not think so. I think, on the contrary, these two have their own status in Iran's regional policy and what is going on in our country is that the new government would like to somehow balance between this approach of, as we can put it, globalization which is the materialistic part of Iran's policy requiring technology and assets from the Western sides and at the same time, this identical, historical and particularism in Iran's regional policy that would like to have a strong state because the state sees the strategic stability in the region as a matter of state's active political role in the region. 

And the third characteristic, in my belief, is to avoid to be included in any current coalitions between states and nations. That is why I think Iran is against the international coalitions in battle against Daesh and of course the coalitions or the so-called 10 Sunni countries' coalitions against the Yemenis in Yemen because I think the value of these coalitions' building issue is under real challenge because the nature of states are somehow changing. If I conclude, I think that Iran and Turkey because of their powerful, strong nation states and having powerful bureaucratic institutions are doomed to cooperate and this is not going to economic integration because the view is that the two sides because of economic exchanges need each other but I think beyond the economic integration between these two countries the two countries in terms of strategic stability and political security somehow completeness of each other will go towards strategic relations and if you see president Erdogan is making some harsh comments against Iran in the Yemeni issue when at the same time has a very good welcoming in Tehran by Dr. Rouhani; it is because of the fact that Turkey in terms of long term strategic relations see Iran and at the same time Iran sees Turkey as two strategic partners and this is growing I think in Iran and Turkey’s strategic relations. 

Last but not least, I think that Iran and Turkey should never put their relations in the context of balance of power explanations. This issue of 400 years balancing each other in the region I think is very old fashioned. Instead, the two sides should work on increasing cooperation and focusing on comprehensive security and how the two great states of Turkey and Iran can cooperate to strategically stabilize the regions and that is I think very important in Iran's Turkey relations. I stop now and I would like to give the floor to our Turkish friends to give another Turkish view and then Dr. Hamid Ahmadi if you do not mind. 

Dr. Mesut Özcan: Thank you very much for this invitation. Although much is said by Şaban that I would like to complement what he said about the Turkish policy towards the Middle East and also Turkish relations with Iran. Şaban tried to summarize the Turkish policy towards the Middle East but if we could find a historical perspective to it, when we look at the Turkish interests in the region, it is mainly driven either from security concerns in the past or from the economic concerns and in some cases we see the subsequent security concerns and in some cases we see the economic concerns. But although both of these perspectives are affecting, we see sometimes the emergence of subsequent problems then we see a security based approach. When we look at the [post war era], although there was a kind of decline of sectarianism in parts of world, unfortunately this was not the case for the Middle East. So, the Turkish foreign policy towards the Middle East was very much driven from the security concerns during the 1990s. Indeed, the conflicts in the region and also the Turkish own domestic security challenges are very crucial here. So, during the 1990s, we see a much more security paradigm in Turkish foreign policy towards the region.  

But the 2000s was very different and Şaban tried to summarize what Turkey did in the last decade or so about this issue. If we look, we see political, economic and cultural tools of Turkish foreign policy that they had applied not only in the Middle East but also in other parts of the world. So, Turkey tried to have a good political dialogue with the neighboring regions and when look at the 2000s, we can talk about the kind of regionalization of the Turkish foreign policy including the Middle East. So in the past, most of the time Turkey was acting within the NATO alliance or with the EU, with Europe, with the West. So, the regional policies or the regional language of the Turkish foreign policy was a bit like it. But in the 2000s, with the overcoming of some of the security challenges and also with the need to integrate more and more with our neighbors, we see some kind of regionalization of the Turkish foreign policy. Here on the one hand, the Turkish policy makers try to develop good relations with their counterparts here in the Middle East or in the Caucuses or in the Balkans and on the other hand, Turkey tries to develop good economic relations; the outcome of these economic relations will reflect in figures of Turkish foreign trade. Whenever we talk about these issues, I just give the same example. 

In 2002 just after the biggest economic crisis in the Turkish history, the share of Europe in Turkish foreign trade was about 52-53 percent of Turkish foreign trade with the EU and when we look to the region and the Middle East, it was below 10 percent at that time. Ten years later, in 2013, the share of EU was about 42 or 44 percent or something but the share of the Middle East was 18 percent. Here over a decade, we see some kind of economic engagement with the Middle East on the side of Turkey. Most of the time during 2000s the economic trade was the main agenda of Turkish foreign policy beside the political issues. In complement to this political and economic engagement in the neighborhood, Turkey also tried to encourage its cultural contacts with its neighbors either by issuing visas or by increasing the connection via transportation, via airways or the other possible ways of communications. Turkey tried to increase its cultural contacts and also the number of tourists coming to Turkey or the Turkish people visiting the neighboring countries especially we are talking about the Middle East have increased. For example, it was less likely 10 years ago or 15 years ago to have - let's say - restaurants which were offering menus in Arabic; it was very rare in Istanbul but over a decade or so, we see the increasing number of Arabs coming to Istanbul, to Turkey; then we witnessed many restaurants or many shops employing Arabic speaking people at the same time they are offering the Arabic menus. So here we see also some kind of cultural engagement between Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries like Arab countries in the Middle East.  
But these are till the emergence of the Arab Spring. When we had this Arab spring and Arab uprisings and the development afterwards, in the beginning there was a kind of positive optimism about the change in the region but there were also some negative outcomes of these developments. Now, unfortunately we have the emergence of sub-state actors and lack of functioning state structures as it was mentioned by other speakers because we have witnessed the emergence of other actors and also a kind of weak states and failing states in the region which is very negative in terms of the future of the region because in many countries in the region unfortunately we are having governments which are not controlling the whole country but on the other hand with the failing states institutions, the future of these countries is in question in the minds of many people. This is not a very welcome development for both countries or for the region as a whole because with this fragmentation and with this disintegration of the state structures in the region, unfortunately the future is not that promising for many people and increasingly we see challenges dominating the agenda and more and more security problems are discussed by many people. 10 years ago and maybe 5 or 6 years ago, there was a kind of optimism about the future of the region and we had a kind of economic integration or regional integration schemes. 

However, now we are talking about conflicts, at the same time divisions among ethnicity, and religious or sectarian divisions. So, this is negatively affecting both Turkish foreign policy in the region, at the same time, the regional political dynamics. In order to overcome these challenges, first we should have much more inclusive governments in all the countries in the region. Also, we should support the state institutions to deliver the very basic [essential] services that these states bring security, at the same time economic benefits. 
So, the biggest challenge in the region is the decline of the states and also emergence of sub-state actors and also lots of beliefs among the many people for their states because people are losing their beliefs to states in terms of both providing security to them, at the same time, providing economic and material benefits to them. So then people resort to other sources of legitimacy or sources of power which is very detrimental for the state system in the region. In the future, unfortunately, we should work hard to overcome these challenges because wherever we go, people are talking about the instability of the Middle East and the challenges of the Middle East; because when we look at the demography of the region, there is a young and demanding population but the opportunities available for these people are not that promising and increasingly the unanswered demands, unanswered expectations are leading to extremism which is supporting the cycle of the conflict in the region. So on the one hand, we should support the state institutions to deliver the very basic services and the needs of the citizens but on the other hand, there should be a kind of concerted effort on the side of the regional actors to overcome these challenges because unfortunately the current environment in the region is not producing positive expectations of the people in the region. Thank you very much.

Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Thank you. Now we have Dr. Hamid Ahmadi from Tehran University.

Dr. Hamid Ahmadi: I am not going to talk about Iran and Turkish relations although it is very important in the present situation which turmoil is spreading all over the Middle East. Even the enduring peaceful relation between Iran and Turkey somehow has been challenged by the crisis in Syria and Yemen. As you mentioned, the Turkish and Iranian states have taken their positions. 
The issue of “regional order” raised by Dr. Kardaş is very important and the problem is that in the Middle East, we do not know what is the definition of “regional order;” whether it is the balance of power in the region among the regional players, whether it is the respectfulness for the borders or it is, as many people are saying, the so-called “Sykes-Picot Agreement order” that has been created or imposed in the Middle East. So, these days, there are many discussions that the “Sykes-Picot regional order” has been ended or it is going to be ended because many actors are against it, there is no great respect for the borders and the other subnational actors and supranational actors are against it . It is true but I believe that when we say Sykes-Picot agreement as the regional order, it does not include the whole Middle East region because Iran is outside of the Sykes-Picot agreement. Iran was an independent state and it was recognized. The Ottoman Empire which included Turkey and the Arab world is the realm of the Sykes-Picot agreement. The challenging forces are pretending to reorder the region and they are a threat against Iran but we should consider that Iran was not a part of the Sykes-Picot dilemma somehow. 

Contrary to conventional discussion that the subnational actors or the supranational actors are challenging the Sykes-Picot or the present regional order or the status quo, that is not the main issue. Of course, that’s my idea. Although it appears that the subnational actors like ethnic groups and religious groups or supranational actors like Salafi groups, Daesh, al-Nusra and others are threatening, the basic game in the region is interstate rivalry. The state actors are very important and we know that at least at the present time, Iran and Saudi Arabia are in the center. In the Middle East, there have been and there are four great actors including Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Each of them has had their respective sphere of influence in the region, in the Islamic world or the Arab world or the Turkish world. There was a time that Egypt was a very important actor; it had the whole Arab world as a revolutionary force but we know that Egypt has been marginalized; it is not a big actor at the time being; it has lots of problems inside and around its borders. 

So, the three other actors are Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Each of them has still their spheres of influence. Turkey has its Turkish world which is a part of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Although Turkey at least Erdogan and the moderate Islamists have some interests that there might be a sphere of influence in the Arab world or in the Arab Middle East. In those parts that the moderate Islamists like al-Nehzat movement or Muslim Brothers are dominant, it could be a part of their spheres of influence. Iran has its own spheres of influence; Iran claims that it is the leader of the Muslim world. So, part of the Muslim population in the Middle East like Islamic Sunni radical groups in Palestine, Lebanon and somewhere else is a part of sphere of influence but basically Iran has the Shia role. The Shiite populations inside the Middle East and outside the Middle East, in Afghanistan or Pakistan, in the Persian Gulf area and in other part of the Arab Middle East are the spheres of the influence of Iran. Saudi Arabia has been claiming leadership of the Islamic world and in general, the moderate Islam and the radical Islam or the Salafi Islam supported by Saudi Arabia somehow. 

At the time being, I think Turkey is not a problem; it is not a part of the problem which is going on around the Middle East, in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Recently, Iran and Saudi Arabia are in the center. They have rivalry with each other. Somehow, the subnational groups or supranational groups are used as the instruments of interstate rivalry in the region whether it is Saudi Arabia or Iran, they are doing that. We all know that at the time being, the question of Shia and Sunni is the big problem in the Middle East at least in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and maybe tomorrow, there would be in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran or somewhere else – we do not know. This is a big challenge in the Middle East because there is rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the leadership of the Muslim world. So, they have been mobilizing somehow the subnational actors; in the case of Saudi Arabia, supranational Salafi groups in order to challenge the other one. 

But the problem is that despite the fact that all of these states namely Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have their spheres of influence, it does not mean that they really have hegemony in that part of the world. Neither Turkey can claim it has hegemony over the Turkish world in the Central Asia or part of Cuscuses because despite all the efforts to create a unified entity there, there have been some disagreements among the states in the Central Asia such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or others. Also, this is the case with Iran; despite the fact that it is said and discussed these days that Iran has hegemony over the Shiite world, we know that there are also some disagreements between Iran and parts of the Shiite population around the world. They have their own rationale and Iran has its own rationale. Saudi Arabia is the same. You know it is said that Saudi Arabia is improving and supporting Salafi movements but we know that the Salafi world has also some kinds of disagreements with Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, even Daesh and others. But the problem is that if we compare Shia and Sunni, these subnational and supranational groups, neither Iran nor the Shiite world or the Shiite groups in the region want to challenge the regional order, destroy the borders and create supranational entities and maybe neither Saudi Arabia has that intention but they are using or manipulating their power in this interstate rivalry. The main problem - I think - is that the Shia-Sunni conflict is the basic problem not only for the Middle East but also for the whole Muslim world. Of course, we see that this problem is emerging in the Middle East around us. 

I think the emerging reality is that the Shiite populations are people who live in the Islamic world, they have ideational differences with the majority of the Muslims over some problems and they have more commonalities with their Sunni brothers. But the fact and the bitter fact is that their existence unfortunately has not been recognized even by some moderate Muslims. There is this mentality that the Shiites are none-Muslims not only among Salafists but among other groups unfortunately. Maybe, in Turkey or in some other parts of the world, this problem has been solved. This group of people should be recognized as Muslims, as people who have their own rights and they want to exist, otherwise problems will emerge. If the Shiite groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and throughout Middle East feel that they are threatened by the majority and the states are manipulating these Shia-Sunni conflicts, there will be the concept of “existential threat” which recently it has come to international relations discipline. When they are feeling that there is a threat to their existence and their existence is not recognized, it is natural that they are looking for other powerful actors like Iran to be supported. This is the nature of the game. 

So, I think the main thing is that the regional actors especially Turkey - I am putting emphasis on Turkey because Iran is a part of the conflict; Saudi Arabia is the other part of the conflict; at the time being, Egypt is out of the scene because they are involved in lots of problems - can have this historical role, i.e. mediator states. There should be an end to this problem, to this Shia-Sunni conflict which has been politicized and mobilized in interstate rivalries. The Turkish state and Mr. Erdogan - who is a moderate Islamist - instead of indirectly refusing the Shiite identity or supporting what is going on in Yemen or other things, come to the scene and play this historical role in order to bring Shia and Sunni groups together and recognize the right of minority groups of the Shiites who are a part of the Middle East; they are actually majority in Iran, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Bahrain and it is not a crescent but more than a crescent. I think if Turkey can play this historical role, it would be accepted both by Iran and definitely Saudi Arabia and other parts. This historical role should be exercised. I think my Turkish counterparts take the issue and somehow raise it because there is a big challenge for the Middle East and the whole Islamic world from this conflict which is going on. Thank you. 
Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Thank you very much Dr. Ahmadi. Thank you for putting this issue in historical framework. I think it is important because history matters a lot in shaping the politics, in the regional issues. At this point, I would like to ask Ambassador Tekin to address us in 5 minutes. But let me introduce Mr. Ambassador. Mr. Ambassador is graduated from Ankara University, Faculty of Political Sciences, and department of International Relations. He served at the Turkish Embassies in Abu Dhabi/United Arab Emirates, Sofia/Bulgaria, attended the NATO Defense College Senior Course in Rome and worked at the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations in New York and served as Consul General in Los Angeles during 2007-2011. Mr. Ambassador also worked as Deputy Director General for Relations with Iraq at the Ministry between December 2011-October 2014 and from October 2014, Mr. Tekin is the Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador for joining us. Please in five minutes.

His Excellency Reza Hakan Tekin, Turkish Ambassador to Tehran: Thank you very much. In fact, not in five minutes; I will try to finish in two minutes because I know nobody is here to listen to me but to listen to the eloquent speakers we have this evening. Thank you very much for the opportunity in this beautiful setting. It is my first visit to this beautiful institution. Thank you also for the audience, for their interest in this very important topic. Now very briefly, of course as the previous speaker said, our region is now going through a big transformation especially in the last four years and despite all the efforts, this has been going rather painful, bloody and what we have to do is I think now to shorten that transformation process as soon as possible because a lot of blood has been shed already and still the conflicts are ongoing on several fields. 

Of course, another examination we have to make is increasing sectarian nature of the conflicts. Of course, Mr. Ahamdi emphasized that and explained it in details but this is something that is really poisoning our region and we have to do something about that and this is not a one-way sectarianism. We are talking about, but both ways of course; there is Shiite sectarianism as well as Sunni sectarianism. The key, we believe as Turkey, to overcome all these ongoing conflicts in our region is to emphasize the inclusiveness in our region. We have to eradicate the sense of marginalization in these countries where we are having big conflict and how to do that of course is easy to say but not easy to implement but we have to try and here of course Turkey and Iran have a big role and big responsibility to play because being the two of the bigger nations in our region and with a unique history each in its own way, I think we have a lot to offer to overcome this problem. Having said this, of course we are not naïve. 

We know that Turkey and Iran are differing on various issues, what we are confronting now in the region. But the important thing is we have never stopped our engagement and I think this is really crucial. Turkey and Iran despite having almost 180 degrees positions on many issues in the region, we have never for instance tried to isolate Iran; we have always continued our engagement. The recent visit of our president under really interesting circumstances going on in our region was a testament to that and we believe we have to do that; we have to continue that engagement but hopefully also produce a meaningful result that would make difference on the field. So, I will stop here and thank you again for the opportunity. 
Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Well, to do that we need inter-institutes and inter-universities cooperation. I hope Mr. Ambassador you facilitate this kind of cooperation as we are also interested in this kind of exchanges. Now is the time we go to question and answer section. I think this is the important part of this academic setting. I would like you to raise your questions and comments, if you might have, but please be short because we have not much time. I think we are running out of time. This is late evening, so we need to be fast in terms of getting more comments and questions. 

Question: My name is Ana Yousefian. I have an MA in international relations from the Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU). First of all, I would like to welcome you to this institute. I would like to pose two questions. The first is that U.S. has been blamed for softening its stance on Assad by Turkey. What is Turkey's position on the agreement between Iran and 5+1 since that might give Iran more leverage on regional terms? My second question is about the Syrian refugees. Turkey called for refugee burden-sharing many times. Could this be counted as a common ground between key regional players to start cooperation? If yes, what is Turkey's position on that?

Question: My name is Mahdokht Zakeri. I am a PhD candidate of International Relations at the Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) and a visiting research fellow at this institute. I have a question for Dr. Kardaş if possible. Why has Turkey tried once again to get involved in another regional crisis, though indirectly, whereas this country has already failed in the Syrian Crisis? Why has Turkey been involved in developments in Yemen?

Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Thank you; next question. I would like to say if any of you would like to raise your question in Persian that is not a problem. We can translate; Mrs. Taghipour will also kindly translate that. 

Question: This is Alireza Mohammadzadeh. I study International Relations at the Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch. I would like to ask you what Turkey's relationship with the EU would be like.  Is Turkey going to be the 29th member of the EU?

Dr. Mesut Özcan: The Turkish-EU relation has a long history and Turkey is a candidate to the European Union for 15 years. There are also some ups and downs in this relationship. Although Turkey is a negotiating country for the time being, but the support for Turkish membership to the EU both in Turkey and also in the EU is declining. I did my PhD on these issues. When I was reading my PhD, this was a hard topic and everyone was talking about these issues during some research on these issues but unfortunately, in the last couple of years, we see some kind of decline of interests on the both sides and there are several reasons to it. On the one hand, there are some negative signals coming from some European officials, some European politicians, from some European capitals about the Turkish eligibility for the membership on cultural grounds and beside these, the economic crisis in Europe is negatively affecting the EU reforms or also EU agenda of enlargement. On the other hand, on the side of the Turkish society, one of the main driving forces for Turkish EU membership was economic reasons but even the economic difficulties Europe is facing would lead to better economic situation for Turkey in the last decade. So, the interest among the Turkish people for the EU declined. Just to give you some numbers, when the talk for the EU membership started 10 years ago, the support for the EU membership was about 75 percent or something, according to the talks. But when we look at the current support among the Turkish society, the Turkish people for this EU membership, it is 30 or 35 percent. So there is a big decline and this is mainly related to some negative signals coming from Europe and some European politicians and the economic difficulties in Europe. At the same time, there are some political hurdles on the way. As some of our friends are coming from Cyprus, so they know the Cyprus issue; these issues are used as a political obstacles. Although these negotiations are mainly technical ones, although there are some political criteria as well, but in the Turkish case it became a much more political issue. So, it created these political hurdles. So, we do not know what will happen in the future but still membership to the EU is a priority for Turkey but we should say that there is less enthusiasm on both sides, on both Turkish and European side. 

Dr. Şaban Kardaş: It seems our friends from Cyprus are the hard-working friends because usually those who want to have fun go to Cyprus! But your questions show that you are smart students. About Turkey's Syria policy, I do not think it is the right time to judge whether Turkey's policy has failed or whether another country's Syria policy has succeeded. Usually I give this example when I talk about this topic. We grade the students' performance at the end of the exam not the middle of the exam. So, we are still in the middle of the process of Syrian conflict; it is ongoing. I can also argue that Iran has failed; probably I can convince you why it has failed. In regards to Turkey's policy, of course it is not necessarily 100 percent successful but unfortunately in the case of Syria, we are not talking about the win-lose game. I always argue this. It is a lose-lose game unfortunately for everybody as Dr. Ahmadi has mentioned. The regional actors have been involved in this bitter bleeding game and Turkey compared to the others, Saudi Arabia or Iran, has managed to stay outside of it more than the others. I am not saying Turkey stayed out of it. Turkey has not paid any costs but my own assessment is that compared to what Iran had to pay to keep Assad regime in power, I think Turkey has performed much better. This is what I can say for now. 

Regarding the Turkish position on Yemen, it is not a direct involvement. It was a declaration of a position which was I think meant to send a signal and it seemed the message was also received by their counterparts and despite some objections, eventually those statements from President Erdogan was received here. So, I understand that at that time, Turkey was trying to raise concerns about increasing rhetoric coming from some actors, for Iranian actors, in different parts of the region about the expansions of the Iranian zone of influence. So, Turkey did send the signal that if Iran plays such an open confrontational sphere of influence policy, Turkey can also stand against it. I think this was the reason but it is not a direct involvement of any sort at this stage and given the distance and Turkey's stakes in Yemen, I do not think it will go further. 
Regarding the question on the refugees, could it be a common ground? I wish it were. I brought some publications with me from my institution outside; if you leave early, you can pick a copy about the copy of the report on the refugees. I mean that is a big regional challenge but unfortunately even to me it is such a major humanitarian crisis. We failed to develop a regional response. There have been some efforts since last year. If you are working on this subject, the foreign ministers and other related ministers of the neighboring countries of Syria got together a few times. One time they met in Şanlıurfa, and then they were in Amman last year as well. So, there is an effort to stage a coordinated regional response but unfortunately it is our own assessment. We did a report on the regional impact of the Syrian conflict in terms of refugees. So, the coordination is lacking. 
About the Iran-U.S. deal and Turkey's reactions, Turkey is overall positive on that and there are some argues that with that deal there will be a broader room of maneuver before Iran in the regional affairs. I personally do not agree with that assessment. So far the way I see it also by looking at the American statements, the deal from the very beginning when the process was made public in November 2013, it was kept limited to the nuclear deal both for the Iranian and American negotiators. So, it is not meant to carte blanche for Iran in the regional affairs just by solving the nuclear file, Iran will now have the sort of blessing of Americans to play whatever games it wants in the Middle East and it is not seen as a threat but for the Gulf countries, for some of the smaller Gulf countries, they see such a possible threat for them but for Turkey I do not think we agree with that assessments. 
Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Thank you very much. Let's get some other views in the next round. Please be short and I would like to ask the speakers also to be short so that we can get more views from the audience. 

Question: Thank you very much for this opportunity. I am Monir kholghi. I am a PhD candidate of Public International Law at the Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch and a visiting research fellow at this institute. I would like to ask about how Turkey defines cultural integrity since Turkey is encouraging controversies in the region. Thank you. 
Question: I am a student of international relations at the Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch. In my point of view, Turkey is a very successful sample of economy and democracy. I think that Turkey's history is going to been changed to interfere militarily in the other countries. Do you think it is good for Turkey as a good sample of democracy to follow this orientation, namely military interference? Thank you very much indeed.

Question: My name is Rouhollah Mousavi Madani. I got my master's in International Relations. I am also a member of Turkish Studies Group in this institute. I would like to pose my question about the effect of Turkey’s domestic dynamics on its the foreign policy; I would like to know about the effect of negotiations between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on its foreign policy in Syria and Iraq.

Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: I can give you some time, our Turkish friends, if you would like to raise some questions or comments, I think. 
Question: Good afternoon. Welcome to our institute. My name is Majid Mohajerani. I am a Ph.D. student of International Relations at the Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch and a visiting research fellow at this institute. I have a question about the foreign terrorist fighters. How is Turkey managing - I hope so - to prevent these fighters from entering Turkey as they cross the Turkish border into Iraq and Syria? Thank you. 

Question: Good afternoon. This is Parisa Mohammadalian. I am a BA student at the Islamic Azad University. I have just two questions. One is that, as Dr. Ahmadi said, does Turkey want to be hegemony in this region or not? And the other question is about Turkey and Israel relations. As Turkey said, they wanted to support Israel’s security; I saw it [in a report] today. Would you please explain this issue? 

Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Ok, let's start with you but please be short and you do not need to answer everything. So just touch the point. We have another round of taking questions. 
Dr. Mesut Özcan: In terms of this cultural integrity, it is not cultural integrity; it is integration. It is not only limited to Turks. So this means we are not only talking about the Turks but all the people in the region, the Arabs, the Iranians, or whatever. So, this means more and more cultural contacts by visits, by trade, by education, by any other means. 

In terms of economy, democracy and military force [the mentioned questioned], I should say that it [the Turkish policy] is based on economy and democracy but on the other hand unfortunately the conflicts in our region is much more tense. So, still Turkey is traditionally using the soft power tools but on the other hand, Turkey also develops its own other tools because the conflicts in the region are pushing Turkey towards this direction. Of course, Turkey will not use this lack of tools in its foreign policy. 

In terms of this PKK and also the ongoing discussions, still there are talks between government and Öcalan but on the other hand, this is also very much related to regional dynamics as well. So on the other hand, we should take a look at the developments in Iraq, Iran, Syria and also the developments in Europe because there are some PKK people in Europe as well. The talks are going on for nearly two years, more than two years with some kind of stability but still there is a long way to go. Maybe after the elections we will have some progress in that regard. 

About the foreign terrorist fighters, as Şaban mentioned, there is a report about it but I can say Turkey issued no entry visa for more than 2000 people and also asked the European counterparts to have more cooperation about these people, about the identity and also information about these people, at the same time, Turkey deported more than 1500 people who were captured in Turkey. 

Turkey is not pursuing the policy of hegemony in the region and also in terms of Israeli issue, although in the 1990s there was a good deal of cooperation between Turkey and Israel in terms of security issues, this is not the case anymore. Under the current conditions, we can only talk about some kind of economic cooperation, economic trade among the business people but we cannot talk about any kind of security cooperation between Turkey and Israel. 

Dr. Şaban Kardaş: Turkey and Israel, although we cannot talk about actual security cooperation currently as an exact threat, as Dr. Özcan said, at the same time, Turkey also recognizes Israel has the right to have security in the Middle East. So within the international recognized borders based on the two-state formula, so maybe the statement you referred to was trying to refer to that principle. 

Regarding the hegemony, yes, I mean that is not Turkey's objective at all. Even I personally am against the term sphere of influence. In an article, I argued that Turkey is actually pursuing “sphere of interest policy,” not sphere of influence. Hegemony is out of question. 

FTF is Foreign Terrorist Fighters, that is the topic that is becoming more and more relevant in international discussions and at my institution at ORSAM, we are conducting a project on this very topic. We had a major workshop launched in January. We will continue to publish on that and the Turkish position in this question is from the very beginning it has been a complex phenomenon. That is why tackling with this problem should also be based on an integrated effort. So usually, to put it briefly, the problem according to the international media and for some countries starts when somebody from France or Paris or London crosses from Turkey into Syria or when somebody is radicalized goes back and starts killing people. But from the Turkish perspective, the problem starts at the very beginning of the process when somebody from Paris first gets those radical ideas; he gets radicalized; he decides to go to Syria to fight; he finds networks, ways to leave his home, his country, comes to Turkey and leaves Turkey and crosses into Syria, finds the people there; fights, radicalizes, goes back home. So, it is a complex process and this has to be seen as part of a strategy and in most discussions there is an attempt to focus only on those people crossing from Turkey into Syria but it is a strong approach. Turkey has always argued for an integrated one which requires a lot of intelligence sharing to tackle the problem. If France does not deal with those who have intentions to leave their country and if there was no information about his intentions or background to the Turkish authorities, every year around 30 or 40 million people visit Turkey; there is no way to identify that a person is a potential FTF. But now we see a greater recognition on the part of Turkey and European partners to cooperate. There is bigger intelligence sharing; there is bigger police coordination. If you are following the issue, last year in the context of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council also adopted a new resolution. Now there is force to internationally coordinate the responses to that challenge and Turkey with the Europeans is working closer on the subject. But if you want to know more, we can communicate. 
About the use of intervention or something like that, yes it is always good to talk about it. This is my personal view. This is where I disagree with Dr. Özcan from the very beginning. I have been always in favor of intervention in some crises, humanitarian crises, and the Turkish policy unfortunately is not listening to me. They are quite un-interventionists; they are still trying to solve the problems through political channels, through maybe economic sanctions but I personally think that there are cases where we should seriously think about instruments including military intervention. 

Dr. Kayhan Barzegar:  Ok, we have some time for taking another round of questions but before we go to the audience, I would like to raise these questions. We know that the issue of change in Turkish Middle East policy has taken roots in the AKP policy at some point from 2002. So, my question is how deep is this policy? How can this go in terms of Turkish domestic politics and for instance Turkish heavy involvement? You mentioned the Yemenis' crisis, the Syrian crisis. How the domestic constraints or domestic politics or political forces inside Turkey are reacting to this policy? This is important because we have this debate inside Iran and it is very important for our students and researchers to understand what is really Turkey's aims and principles in attaching itself to the Middle East politics? And of course there is this counter argument here in Iran that Turkey because of attachment with Western institutions like NATO and other Western institutions or even Turkish traditional Kemalist policy cannot connect that much with the new or the southern part. How do you think this is important in shaping Turkey's policy? Ok, this is my question but we can go and take some other questions. 

Comment and Question: I am Arash Sadeghi. I am a PhD candidate of political science at the Islamic Azad University. I believe that the most important element in the emergence of ISIS in Iraq is lack of a coherent identity. My question is about Iraq crisis and Turkish foreign policy. We witness Turkey’s ambiguous foreign policy towards the autonomy of the Kurdistan Region. I think it will increase the tension in the region. How will it be justified in Turkish foreign policy? 

Comment: Thank you very much. This is Abbas Salmanpour. I am a PhD student at Tehran University. I would also like to welcome you to this institute and thank you for this opportunity. I have one comment. Dr. Kardaş, in your lecture, you talked about the Turkish history of policy making in our region and at the end of your lecture, you mentioned that Turkey is very active in our region because of the change of nature of the states and the new dynamics of the region. I want to know more about Turkey’s support of the unhuman groups such as al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and the other terrorist groups that killed innocent people such as women and children in a bad way, showed a bad face of Islam and corrupted the image of Islam in our region. This is your dynamic strategy; this is your answer to the Arab Spring in the region. I think it seems that all of these are because of Saudi Arabia's doctrine in our region not the dynamics of the region. Thank you very much. 

Dr. Mesut Özcan: Regarding this ISIS issue, it is when we look to the emergence of Daesh, when we look to the position of these people, these are mainly from some marginalized groups in Iraq and when we look to their concerns, some of them are anti-Shiites and some of them are anti-Kurds and they are very much disillusioned with what is going on in Iraq and as I tried to summarize during my talk, there is a lack of trust for the state institutions in Iraq. So, people in many parts of Iraq lost their belief in these institutions, so then we witnessed the emergence of actors like Daesh. But there are also some other groups inside Iraq as well. So as I said, with the failure of state and with the failure of state institutions to deliver the very basic services like security and also economic welfare, increasingly unfortunately we witnessed the emergence of these actors and the legions of people to these sub-state actors. So this is very much related to the failure of the state in Iraq.
 
Dr. Şaban Kardaş: On the same topic, I do not know how you got the impression that Turkey is supporting them, but usually people do claim that Turkey is supporting the Syrian opposition, hence supporting those radical groups. This is a big oversimplification and misses the facts of the problem. From the very beginning, Turkey did support the Syrian opposition; first the political opposition and later the so-called Free Syrian Army, moderate opposition that has been also organized militarily but Turkey has always warned against radicalization of the Syrian opposition and Turkey did always expressed such concerns to the Western partners and to other partners as well. Then Turkey is against Daesh or other more radical groups that are on the international list of terrorist groups and Turkey did include them; Turkey is taking every measure to stop their activities. On the ground, especially when we look at the expansion of Daesh, you should not miss the fact that in Syria Daesh expanded in areas controlled by the moderate Syrian opposition that were allies of Turkey, not against the Syrian regime. Or in Syria again, Daesh or other radical groups expanded against for instance Turkmen groups that are Turkey's ethnic kin. 

In Iraq as well, when you look at the expansion of Daesh, it expanded in areas mostly traditionally populated by the Turkmen. The Iraqi Turkmen suffered the most from the expansion of Daesh. Even Daesh's efforts to expand against KRG, the Kurdistan Regional Government, were a threat to Turkey's own interest because Turkey did invest in its relationship with the KRG. So that argument that Turkey is supporting, I do not think it is correct and in no way Turkey is in line with the Saudi doctrine of Salafism; this has always been met with skepticism and opposition in Turkey and then, for those who are interested, two or three years ago, the head of Turkish Diyanet [the Presidency of Religious Affairs], the religious affairs directorate, published a very good paper where he was arguing against both Saudi interpretation of the regional situation versus the sectarian interpretation of Shiite school. Turkey has always called for moderation in religion and then the Saudis supported the groups on the ground in Iraq. We do not have any opinion about in Syria. They are not on the list of the groups that are supported by Turkey. We can go to details if you want later. 

Turkey's position on the autonomy of the Iraqi Kurds has not been vague. As a matter of fact, I come from Iraq. Last week, I was there in Sulaymaniyah, the week before, together with Dr. Özcan, we were in Erbil; we go there very often and as I see it, as I understand it, Turkey has clearly expressed its position on that subject. Turkey is for the territorial integrity of Iraq, that is the bottom line and then the discussions about possible referendum for independence came up last year. Turkey also raised similar objections. The good relation that Turkey has with Iraqi Kurds does not mean that Turkey is supporting their independence. That was a part of a new strategy towards the Kurds in Iraq that started roughly about after 2006, in 2007. It is based on different assumptions. Firstly, there is a connection between the Turkish approach towards the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey's policy vis-à-vis the Kurds at home. So, there was a positive synergy but at the same time, Turkey's policy was also to support the Kurds to bolster them, to empower them so that they can also be integrated within the broader Iraqi society and the state and economic structure. So, when we look at, for instance, the economic deal especially the energy deals between Turkey and the KRG, Turkey always pushed them to work with Baghdad. So, yes, Turkey did act towards more cooperation with the Iraqi Kurds but it was never at the expense of their relationship with Baghdad. Turkey's policy was always conditional of the Kurds, working also with Baghdad central government. 

Regarding your question, the domestic context of Turkey's regional policy, how deep it is? This is where I firstly disagreed with your initial statement that Iran's regional policy receives a broad support; Turkey's regional policy may not receive that much. Firstly, it is hard to judge this because in Turkey we have, I would say, more open discussions about foreign policy. I do not know what will be the reactions to the human costs of Iran's policy in Syria and we do not have soldiers coming back home from Syria. But in Iraq and Syria, we see Iran is also involved militarily from time to time. There is, as I said, not a clear open discussion on that but still I was also arguing the same point earlier today. The government's policy vis-à-vis Syria is not supported by a big majority of Turkish population. There are big reservations. So, this is where I say I would argue with you. But the support is not that nonexistent, I would say, it is there. 
But regarding the reorientation toward the Middle East, I think now new channels and mechanisms are emerging. When we look at the pillars of Turkey's Middle East policies, for instance, in terms of the economic pillar, as Dr. Özcan mentioned, now a larger share of Turkey's trade is with the Middle East, a larger share of Turkey's investment abroad is in the Middle East which means there are now a lot of Turkish people who are doing business with the Middle East, who are there, who are investors. When we go to Baghdad in northern Iraq, even in the southern part of Iraq, in Basra and other places, you see a lot of Turkish investors with small businesses, with big infrastructure projects such as power plants. So, now it is creating a strong lobby, so to speak, in favor of larger presence in the Middle East and then the cultural side of the story, as was also discussed earlier, the culture of integration. 
Now, there is a greater awareness about the Middle Eastern issues in Turkey. Traditionally, we did not have much Arabic speakers, Persian speakers, but increasingly we are having such channels as well both ways. As Dr. Özcan mentioned, many Arabs are coming to Turkey but many Turks are now also trying to go to the Middle East. We are here with a delegation of 10 people and we speak to Turkish students and there are a couple of Turkish students I know who are in Tehran trying to learn Persian; there are quite many Turkish students who are trying to go to Middle Eastern countries to learn Arabic. For example, in Amman, now they are building a dorm only for Turkish students who want to go there to learn Arabic in summer time or even for an academic year. Now, the human element is also building up. I think overtime the policy will be creating its own dynamics to sustain itself. It is not a deep policy to start with but it is deepening, I would say. 

Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Ok, you mentioned a few times the word of “judging.” I think we have passed for years and we can to some extend judge about our policies when it goes to Syria or other places. But let me finish by saying that Turkey and Iran are two rising powers. There is no doubt. They have strong nation-states, powerful institutions which give them upper hand in initiating some peace plans. There is this historical duty - as Dr. Ahmadi mentioned - of these two countries to cooperate because stability is a key concept for these two great countries with great economic potentials. If they would like to go with economic roots, they need stability in the region and this is the logic behind their increased relations in establishing stability in the region. Terrorist activities and other foreign interference in the regional issues will not benefit Iran and Turkey. I hope that the two countries can increase their relations. Sometimes short-term issues come up which does not matter, as I personally mentioned that these are short-term but Turkey and Iran have 100 reasons to cooperate, a few not to. Therefore, we are two neighbors attached with economy, transformation, tourists and many other things. Join me to thank the speakers. Thank you very much. There is a reception; we take a photo and then we exchange our views. (the audience’ applause)

Report: Fahimeh Ghorbani, a Research Fellow at IMESS

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