Turkish Regional Policy after the Coup Turkish Regional Policy after the Coup
“……we are not surprised about the Iranian position after the coup and we look forward to further expand our cooperation bilaterally and also in the region….”

 August 6, 2016

On August 1, 2016, Turkish Ambassador in Tehran Riza Hakan Tekin participated in a joint seminar of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS) and the Iranian Political Science Association (IPSA) on “Turkey’s Regional Policy after the Coup.” IMESS’ faculty members and research fellows, IPSA members, as well as Ph.D. and Master’s students from different universities in Tehran attended the session and exchanged their views on the topic. Dr. Kayhan Barzegar, Director of IMESS moderated the session. Below is the complete report of this seminar.

 Ambassador Riza Hakan Tekin: “……we are not surprised about the Iranian position after the coup and we look forward to further expand our cooperation bilaterally and also in the region….”

Dr. Barzegar: Good afternoon! It is my great pleasure to welcome His Excellency Ambassador Riza Hakan Tekin who is a close friend of our Institute and visited us here in several occasions. Let me first thank Mr. Ambassador for being so attentive and present in the Iranian media and research centers nowadays trying to make known the different angles of the recent failed coup in Turkey. This shows that how much the relations with Iran are important for Turkey and I think you agree with me that this is the same on our side too. Ambassador Tekin and I agreed to conduct the today’s session in a direct conversation avoiding as much as possible any long remarks. In this respect, I raise some general questions which I think would interest the Iranian audiences. Of course, I make some short introductory remarks to warm up the discussion at the start. Since we are in a strategic studies center, we rather avoid engaging heavily in Turkish domestic politics focusing more on the implications of the recent developments on Turkish foreign and regional policy. This part might take half an hour.  Then we go to the floor for further discussions.  The audiences today, as I see, are comprised of our faculty members, research fellows, IPSA members and Ph.D. and Master's students from different universities, who are interested in Turkish and regional developments. Now I would like you Mr. Ambassador to say a few greeting words, then I will get back again with my introductory comments and questions. 

Ambassador Takin: Thank you very much for this opportunity. I am always glad to be here. This is a very well-known Institution and we are happy to have a good partnership with you and we want to continue it further and thank you also for the kind words you tell about me. As a diplomat, we try our best to explain ourselves and also of course to work for better understanding of each other. 

As you said, absolutely Turkey and Iran are very important countries for each other and anything happening in each of these countries is of direct interest to the other country. We saw that in the recent failed coup attempt in Turkey two weeks ago and this was another test for our deep relations and successful relations in fact. 

So, we are happy and we are not surprised about the Iranian position after the coup and we look forward to further expand our cooperation bilaterally and also in the region and I would like to thank you again for this opportunity. 

Dr. Barzegar: Thanks for your kind words Mr. Ambassodor. Let me begin with a short introduction expressing my own view on why Iran has supported the Turkish government during the coup. I think this was for three major reasons:  First, Iran generally supports “state system” in the region, no matter it is in Syria, in Iraq or in Turkey. Any weakening of the state in the region will not benefit Iran’s national and security interests, considering the unpredictable consequences this might bring about for the entire region and in the bilateral relations. Turkish domestic politics are widely influenced by the condition of the state in Turkey.  State’s instability in the region is equal to increased extremism and thereby terrorism and this is true about Turkey too. This repeated position by the Iranians that Turkey's insecurity is equivalent to Iran's insecurity is exactly because of this fact. In this respect, I should say that it was very natural that Iran condemned the coup from the beginning.

Second, Iran opposes to the presence of a military government in Turkey. Military governments are generally unpredictable and bring different and sometimes unusual policies. Such situation in Turkey that is shifting from civil government to a military government is even more sensitive not only in the bilateral relations but in the regional issues. Some might think that the new situation might change Turkey’s current opposing stance in the Syrian crisis in favor of Iran. But I think this argument is rather inaccurate. We should think that a military state in Turkey will bring unpredictable and precarious conducts in its foreign policy and given the fact that Turkey is a member of NATO and its bureaucratic political-security structures have traditionally been West-oriented, the presence of a military government can only increase Turkey’s dependence on the West and NATO. And we know that Iran is against any increased presence of the Western powers in the region. This situation would also raise the question that how would be the nature of the Iran-Turkey relations after the coup. Also, Turkey’s way of battling Daesh (ISIS) or handling the Kurdish issue is important to Iran. So how a military government could affect the whole situations is a matter of significance for Iran.  

And third, is about the position of Iran itself toward the current AKP government in Turkey, which despite the opposing stances between the two  especially in handling the Syrian crisis, I believe Iran has a “positive critical view” towards the government in Turkey and is somehow taking a “positive balance” stance to weigh its national security and interests. That is that while Iran is opposing Turkish policy on the Syrian crisis at the regional level, it is interested in increasing its bilateral relations with the country for the sake of enhanced regional cooperation, mainly for defusing any pretext for foreign presence in the region.  In this regard and from a strategic perspective, Iran considers Turkish independent foreign policy as a matter of balancing the role of other regional and trans-regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and the U.S. and even Russia in the region. For instance, Iran welcomed restoring relations between Turkey and Russia and sought decreasing tensions between the two countries and even proposed mediation, yet it is cautious of the increased Russian presence in the region beyond the Syrian crisis. 

Dr. Barzegar (continuing…): With these short comments, I would like you Mr. Ambassador to start with this question: to what extent do you think that the coup will impact Turkish regional policy, especially regarding battling Daesh or ISIS? Especially considering the fact that now Turkish army is somehow divided, not of course in the classical terms. But how this might affect Turkey’s way of battling ISIS after the coup. Please!

Ambassador Takin: Thank you very much also for your analysis and your reasons but I will first answer your question. I think the only effect of the failure of this coup attempt of Turkish foreign policy will be a positive thing. Why? Because what we are seeing for the first time in this very short time after that night is that the sense of unity inside Turkey's role which will help our stability and of course, in order for any country to play any positive role in its region, I think the first issue is the domestic stability. If we do not have stability domestically, then we may not play a similar role outside. Yes, we were going through some challenges and this coup attempt was a big shock for almost everyone in Turkey. 

Nobody was expecting that to happen. Of course, we had some coup attempts in our recent history since 1960 but everyone thought that no one would dare to have a similar attempt after all has been going on in Turkey but it turned out that we were wrong. As I said, it will increase the unity and the legitimacy because if we do not have a legitimate government in your country, then you cannot project stability in your region. That effects directly what we have to deal with in our region. For instance, with two bordering countries, two neighboring countries, we have Syria and Iraq which are going through domestic conflicts for some years and this has been directly affecting because we are sharing with them 1300 kilometers of borders. 

So, now with the further restoration of democracy in Turkey, I think we will be in a better position to play even a more positive role in our region. Yes, our armed forces have gone through a big challenge and still we are trying to clean up all those elements which are among the armed forces and some state institutions but we are fortunate that a big number of the armed forces in total of course are intact and we continue despite all this coup and what we have been through during the last few weeks, we are faced with multiple challenges, multiple threats also in the field of terrorism. For instance, we were fighting Daesh as well as PKK for many years and we are still continuing that fight. Now, we are fighting with the threat of Gulen’s terrorist organization. Of course, they were doing in a more sophisticated way until the night of the coup. 

Now, some say that after what has happened in Turkey, Turkey will be weakened and then it might have some problems with regard to its domestic stability, its armed forces might also be not as strong as before to fight the challenges we have. But what we have been seeing even in the last two weeks it has not corresponded to that thinking, why? Because our operations against PKK are good; PKK has not stopped its attacks against Turkey. In fact, they tried to invade a small base in the south east just three days ago and then we responded forcefully and we defeated them. And the Daesh also, yes, we are fighting with them and that fight is being done both in our borders as well as inside our country. Let me give you an example. Just last week, our security forces carried out operations against some Daesh cells in Istanbul and they detain 29 suspects. This all, in my opinion, Turkish government and all the official bodies are trying to fight this recent coup attempt, on the other hand, on the other front we are also continuing our fight against the terrorist groups. 

Dr. Barzegar: But Mr. Ambassador, how much do you think that this two-pronged policy of battling the ISIS and the Kurds simultaneously will be weighed after the coup? The Turkish government has been criticized for somehow prioritizing the battle against the Kurds in the light of battling Daesh. How this evolves after the coup? 

Ambassador Takin: With all due respect, let me correct you. We are not battling the Kurds. We are battling against some terrorist groups which claim to be representing the Kurds, I mean the PKK, PYG or YPG in Syria and in our own country. They have their branch in Iran, the PJAK. So, this is in fact one group which is trying to dominate the Kurds and to pursue their own agenda. Now yes, I think for instance even at the night of the coup, there has been some rapprochement with regard to Kurdish issue as well in Turkey. 

Remember, all parties in Turkey including the HDP which I think is the representative of the Kurds took a very clear position and they supported, even though they were heavily criticizing our government and our president, they extended their full support against the coup attempt and we had a joint declaration that night at the parliament. 

So, this gives a hope. Yes, still of course there has been the PKK, as I gave the examples with the armed conflicts which are continuing but remember that, I mean, one can think that of course now our priority is rather to end this existential problem with regard to this coup attempt in terms of our state system. So, after isolating these people and cleaning up these people, maybe we do not have a better opportunity through which a new ground of sort of rapprochement with the Kurds as well which would have a lasting peace in our country and which could eventually might also have effects on our region in terms of our relationship with the Kurds and we have no problem with the Kurds and with the Syrian Kurds also. We have engagements with certain groups but what we are having against is that to see a certain group which has close and very obvious ties with the PKK, a classified terrorist group.

Dr. Barzegar: Ok Mr. Ambassador! I am sure that we will get back to the issue of battling the terrorist groups, as you say. Let's open up another discussion and that is Turkish regional and international relations after the coup, with the Western and Arab countries on the one hand and Iran and Russia on the other. There are two sets of countries which dealt with the coup. Countries like Iran and Russia and ironically President Assad in Syria who condemned the coup. European countries have had critical view towards the coup. They condemned the coup because they are geographically close to Turkey with all the possibilities of increased tensions and instability in their proximity, yet they are somehow critical of the government’s handling the situation after the coup. Then it is the U.S. which somehow until today is rather unclear. Of course, President Obama condemned it around the coup morning as I remember. But the most important matter is the Arab countries’ positions. 

I would like you to tell us how Turkey’s international relations will be after the coup. Some say Turkey will be inclined toward Iran and Russia, because now the government in Turkey is more realistic about dealing with the regional issues. Today, I was reading a news piece that President Erdogan thanked President Assad for taking positive position and somehow complained other countries, as he says, who stabbed us from back. So, what is your view about this? 

Ambassador Takin: Well, I mean certainly the countries' position after the coup is important for us. How did they behave? Some countries like Iran for instance from the outset was very clear and very strong that they were against the coup. Some countries, as you mentioned, were more prudent, let's say and they waited for some time. Some countries, I can even name, like Egypt for instance, openly expressed their hope about the coup. So, this was not surprising of course. Now, I mean of course this will have an effect but we, at this point of course, do not blame any country of supporting these people who are behind the coup. We have to wait and see and we cannot make decisions on the speculations. There are a lot of you know comments, a lot of speculations, a lot of disinformation going on and some countries may want to use this opportunity to settle their own accounts by using this event. So, we have to be very careful now. 

And on another point, we do not see this as a zero-sum game. I mean after the coup, if our relations, I believe personally, with Iran, with Russia, with other countries, this would not mean that Turkey will be getting away from the West or getting away from some countries in the region. That would be in fact the wrong policy and nobody in Turkey, I think, thinks in that line at least the ones who are having power. 

Of course, you might read a lot of things in the press or in media or some think- tanks that say now we have to turn outside to the West or to some countries in the region because they were not beside us when we needed them the most. But you know the international politics that is the basic of the international foreign policy; everything is based on your interest, national interests. No country supports any other country just for the sake of supporting them because it is in their interest to do that and this is very natural. 

So, I think our position towards these countries, these groups of countries which you mentioned, for instance the Western countries, there might be some new stances between some countries' positions even within them themselves and some of them maybe were overreacting, some of them maybe were over-prudent but we will see. It is still fresh to make some conclusions. 

But what we are disappointed about the West especially after the coup attempt as they seemed to be more enthusiastic about the fate of these people who carried out this bloody coup about their rights, about how they are treated rather than what has happened in Turkey, what if they succeeded. I think this is a huge double standard that you know they have to dictate what is democracy, what is not democracy, what is human rights violation or what is human rights violation and unfortunately that is the reality of our world. I mean especially in our part of the world, countries like Turkey, Iran or countries in the Middle East in general or none-Western countries, let's say, are always treated with double standards and we also saw that the feelings of orientalism towards our region, our nations, our societies are still very much valid within the West and Europe. 

Dr. Barzegar: But you talked about national interests, right? So, if we consider that Turkey is following its national interests, then what is your view about Turkish possible change of policy in Syria? I have followed your interviews/comments in the Iranian media after the coup and I found your view saying that the Turkish regional policy is unlikely to change. How can you be this certain? We saw a great deal of change of position in Turkey recently. For instance, President Erdogan changed his positions toward Russia or the Israeli regime, despite saying previously that Turkey is not going to retreat from its position and apologize for the Russian jet incident. As you say rightly, preserving national interests is the main concern of states and I personally respect it. But again, to what extent do you think that Turkish policy in Syria might change after the coup? Because many argue that this could be in favor of Turkish national interests. 

Ambassador Takin: I mean, what I have said also in my interviews is that our vision for Syria is very clear, that we want of course first and foremost peace and stability in Syria, because it is a neighboring country, and whatever happens there directly affects us like any other neighboring country. So, Syria has been going on for almost six years, a big turmoil. Four hundred thousand Syrians have been killed, part of the population displaced and so on and so forth. I mean of course this is a big tragedy. 

When you speak with the figures and the numbers, it is only numbers but even a single casualty is a big tragedy. But anyway, from the outset, we had very close relations with Damascus, with Bashar al Assad. We wanted a government in Syria which embraces its people without any discrimination and which represents all elements of its society and all elements of its nation. For instance, we are speaking about the Kurds. Now nobody remembers that Bashar al Assad was not even giving citizenship to Syrian Kurds. They could not even get the ID cards. Of course, after the domestic conflict started, he tried to manipulate some parties against each other. I do not want to go into that. But our policy in that regard, to say simply or maybe in a shorter way, after what they have gone through for six years in Syria and we believe, we sincerely believe, the primary responsible is Bashar al Assad. We do not see a future of peace and stability in Syria with Bashar al Assad in the picture. That is our big concern. 

Dr. Barzegar: So, let me ask that if tomorrow America and other countries accept that Bashar al Assad's government is going to stay in power or at least for the transitional time, would Turkey accept to change its policy? Or Turkey will still insist on it? If this latter way, then what would be the meaning of preserving the national interests you talked about above?

Ambassador Takin: I think it is neither for Turkey nor for America, Russia or Iran to choose who will rule this country, Syria. It is the Syrian people who should do that.  Now of course, you would say that because I have been hearing in Iran also that Bashar al Assad has been elected by Syrian people by whatever percent or so. But of course, we know what type of election that is and of course, even if we have an election under the current regime without changing anything, we know how that election will be carried out. So, this is a matter of legitimacy. I mean we cannot impose anybody on any country that this will be your ruler or so.

Dr. Barzegar: Ok, but I still wonder why Turkey is so persistent on its current policy in Syria in a time that other Western countries are somehow coming to accept the realities on the ground and adjust their policies. I mean this reduce Turkey’s political maneuverability. But we don’t need to go further on the Syrian issue because it has been discussed enough. Let's go to another question and then I finish my set of general questions. 

Let’s talk about the Arab countries positions regarding the coup, especially I would like to know about Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s positions. You talked about “prudence.” What aims were behind that prudency? What did they expect of the coup if it could make its way? Did they possibly have this in mind that this would contain Iran's role in the region? What is this “prudency” that you mentioned came from the Arab countries?

Ambassador Takin: Well, I don’t know, I don’t know. Now nobody knows why they acted so late. I was just speaking very recently with an Iranian official, and we also discussed this why and he said that, of course he was joking, I praise Iran for its disciplined system of government, for instance the Iranian foreign ministry and also the security organizations. The night of the coup, I think nobody slept while we are in charge in Turkey. Until the early morning, you followed the events very closely and you have a good diplomacy tradition so that you had the pulse of the nation. 

So, you knew that this would be defeated but not every country is as disciplined. As I said, maybe they slept that night; they did not watch the events so closely. That is why they made their reaction that day. Of course, this is not something scientific, what I am saying. It is just a joke but for us, of course, at this point at least we take on and we value what we are being told by the officials of those countries and Saudi Arabia, the king of Saudi Arabia called our president the next day and said he is fully inside with the Turkish government and strongly condemned this coup attempt and we take this as unless we have anything else to prove that this position we take it as a fact. Emir of Qatar said similar things. The UAE, yes, there have been a lot of speculations about the UAE and that it was financing this Fethullah Gulen’s group and that they were not happy that night and so on and so forth. 

We do not know and at this point we don’t know and we hope it is not true; unless we do not have again some concrete facts about these allegations, we cannot subscribe to those views and the UAE has helped us in fact actually when two of high generals who were stationed in Afghanistan they were traveling and in fact they were running away probably using Dubai and when we informed them about that, the UEA security authorities immediately detained these two generals at the Dubai airport. So, for this specific case, the UAE authorities supported us. 

So, we will see. I mean maybe things will come up more clear in the coming weeks, months or years whatever, but in international relations, we cannot act on speculations or without clues when somebody says that this country did that or that. So, that is our position. 

Dr. Barzegar: My last question, perhaps the most important one, is the Iran-Turkey relations after the coup. I mentioned my thoughts that why Iran supported the government in Turkey. But can you shortly tell us if Turkey new reasons Turkey might have new reasons to expand its relations with Iran after the coup? 

Ambassador Takin: We have such a long history of relationship. This is not because of just Iran supporting us after the coup in a very strong way and in a very kind way. Of course, this was a big trust in our relationship in terms of reinforcing trust between the two countries but we already have very close relationship. I mean, this is a very unique relationship, I think, in terms of history. These might be some rhetorical words but really I mean that is the reality. 

As two people, I mean, Turks and Iranians, we are so close to each other. I mean, we do not feel strangers in our own countries. I felt like a stranger since almost my two years here and I say this from my heart. So, we have a very strong basis but apart from that of course we have interests, as you mentioned, I mean the security because it is a very important thing. 

 Iran has interest in expanded security of Turkey and likewise Turkey has interest in the strengthening of security in Iran. That is why I think it was the Iranian officials had acted in this way. So, of course we were already working on expanding our relations and building up on this sound basis which unfortunately, I should say, we had not used the full potential of it. 

That is another reality we have to tackle but let’s hope that after this, this will bring fresh impetus in our bilateral relations as well as of course our regional cooperation which is also the indispensable part of our relationship and that is why we can move in a way that it helps interests of both countries as well as our regional countries. 

Dr. Barzegar: Thank you Mr. Ambassador! We are half the way of our session. Now, we go to the floor. I would like to start with Dr. Seyed Asadollah Athari who is a university professor and head of our Turkish Studies Group. 

Dr. Athari: Greetings Mr. Ambassador! To what extent do you think that the Turkish policy in Syria will change? And also, I would be grateful if you could talk more about Mr. Gulen’s policies. Can he bring democracy and human rights for Turkey? 

Dr. Barzegar: Mr. Ambassodor already mentioned about the Turkish policy towards Syria. But I suspect we take more of these kind questions, as well as about the Kurdish issue. But you can add the issue of Fethullah Gulen’s movment. Does he have democratic policies in nature? And to be honest, some say that Turkey is going too far in suppressing his movement. What is your view? 

Ambassador Takin: Well, again I cannot say anything at this moment that this part of our policy will change. I said the principle of Turkish policy will be the same, I mean the objective of the Turkish policy with regard to Syria. We want a stable peaceful Syria; a Syria where there is a system of government which represents its entire people and that is why it establishes stability. That is our way. Who can deliver that? That is acceptable for us. I mean whoever, if anybody, X, Y, Z from the Syrian political arena can deliver that, that would be more than welcome for us. Why we are against Assad? As I said, Assad has lost his opportunity and he has lost his legitimacy. That is why we are against him. But we are still hopeful. I mean we should not condemn the future of a country to a single person. That is why. Syria is a much bigger nation than Bashar al Assad himself.

Now on Fethullah Gulen, I think the last events in Turkey, if you have even watched the fewer video clips about that night, I think that is enough to have an idea about what Fethullah Gulen or his movement is about. I mean they have nothing to do with secularism. They are in fact a religious group. He is a preacher. And also since we are touching on this element, I think most of you know about his ideas about Iran. He has always been against expanding relations with Iran and he is also a very anti-Shiite figure. He does not even consider Shiites as Muslims. So, this type of human rights secularism democracy, he might use all these concepts to achieve his aims because this is a very secretive group. They always activate I mean carry out their activities under very soft topics like interfaith dialogue, like education, like peace and things like that. But we saw the real nation. Did we overreact after what has happened? I do not think so because this is a very unique challenge we are facing. This is not a typical terrorist organization or not a typical criminal organization. They have been acting; they have very long-term projects much more than what it seems. I mean taking up little kids from schools and indoctrinating them with their views, providing them with good educations so that they can get into good positions in the government and then after that, like a robot, they are sending them commands and asking them to act. So, now we lived the last two and a half years ago like when their people in judiciary tried to detain the head of our intelligence agency; they tried to pursue some cases against some high-level officials. So after that we realized and we understood the real nation. So, there was already since the last more than two years within the Turkish government system there has already been scrutiny carried out against this group. So after this dramatic coup attempt happened, that is why I mean some people asked questions or the government should have known the government before because one day after this, they detained ten thousand, twenty thousand people and this figure increased by the day. No, because we had the information of course, I mean our relevant authorities but we were still you know, I mean nobody guessed that they would dare to do such a thing. They were just being watched out closely. So, the legal formalities were being carried out. That is why this happened. 

Dr. Barzegar: Thank you! I personally think that it is wrong a country like Turkey with all its vast political-cultural dynamics and greatness to be run by some military people. There is a structural impediment for it. That was why I think all political parties supported the government because the government came to office by democracy and people. Please next question.

Question: My name is Seyed Mahdi Nabavi and I am a visiting research fellow at this Institute and also a Ph.D. student of Middle Eastern Studies at University of Tehran. I have two short questions. One goes to the Syrian crisis and the other one goes to migration issue after the coup. If you have a glance at the Turkish policy towards the Syrian crisis, of course, Turkey tried to immediate. Then, Turkey tried to create a belt of Muslim Brotherhood in the region and then it helped the Westerners to topple the Syrian legitimate government to somehow deepen their  strategy in the region. After five years of conflict, we can see that this policy is not successful. Don’t you think it is time for Turkey to stop playing the American stream of policies and share its interests with its regional neighbors making its ways closer to Iran? The other question relates to the reaction of the regional countries after the coup especially Turkey’s harsh post-coup reaction. Would this change the Turkish migration policies in the future?  

Dr. Barzegar: Next! And let me see your hands. But please for the sake of having a good discussion and respect the others, please ask short questions or make short comments. 

Good afternoon! My name is Mahdokht Zakeri. I am a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations from Shahid Beheshti University and also a visiting research fellow at this Institute. My question is a bit trans-regional and is about the future process of Turkey joining the European Union after the coup and specifically in the light of last night’s incident in Germany. How do you assess the future of this joining to the European Union? 

Dr. Barzegar: Next question.

Question: My name is Hossien Mofidi Ahmadi and I am a research fellow at this Institute and a Ph.D. graduate of international relations. I would like to ask you about the process of the Europeanization of Turkey. To what extent, do you think the coup would affect this issue?  

Question: Greetings, welcome to our Institute. My name is Anna Yousefian. I am a visiting research fellow at this Institute. I have two questions for you. The first is that what really went wrong that led to the coup in Turkey? You said that some large scale purge of police officers in Turkey led to this coup. Is that true or there are other stronger reasons behind that? And the second question is that I think the failure of the coup will bolster Erdogan’s popular trend since it brings political justification to the constitutional changes for strengthening the president and his power. If that is so, what would be the shape of democracy in the future of Turkey? 

Question: Good afternoon! My name is Seyed Majid Mohajerani and I am a visiting research fellow at IMESS and also a Ph.D. candidate of international relations. I have two short questions. First, there were some rumors about the decapitation of a soldier. If true, this is a dangerous alarm about the increasing violence among the Turkish nation. What do you think about the reaction of the army after these damages to its image among the nation? How the army would react? 

Question: My name is Rouhollah Mousavi Madani and a member of Turkish Studies Group at this Institute. I have two questions. First of all, if we look at the history of this region, we can see that Turkey and Iran are the oldest countries in this region. Also, and they are two representatives of the Islamic world. My first question is that can we refine our relations and cooperate in the structure of ECO agreement and manage the issues of the region within this framework? And, my second question is we know there are two possibilities for the future of Syria: the disintegration of the whole country or making a federal country. Can Turkey accept a federal Syria in the future? Thank you! 

Dr. Barzegar: Ok! Mr. Ambassador, there is a variety of questions but I would urge you to not coming back again to the Syrian and Gulen issue, as we already talked about them and have no time. I also kindly ask you to be short in answering because there are still a lot of questions and we would like to get more of your knowledge and diplomatic expertise. 

Ambassador Takin: Ok. I would as brief as possible. Thank you very much for very good and relevant questions. 

Regarding the belt of Muslim Brotherhood, we never had that agenda. We never tried to create the belt of Muslim Brotherhood neither in Syria nor in the region. I just want to give an example when our president at the time he was the Prime Minister Erdogan, visited Syria after Morsi was elected, he made a very important statement there in Cairo that he said he emphasized the importance of secularism that you should embrace your people; you should not act in a victorious way. Unfortunately, they also did not take that note into consideration. Actually after that statement, Mr. Erdogan was quite criticized by the Muslim Brotherhood. So, I think those criticisms are also not so relevant. 

And also about acting with the West that whether it is not time for us to stop cooperating with the U.S. and cooperate with Iran, look yes we are being engaged with the U.S. quite extensively on Syria and on many other issues. The U.S. has been an ally of named Turkey for many years. But unfortunately especially on the Syrian issue, we have been hardly on the same page and on many issues. Maybe there is a wrong impression that we are working very closely with them. We are engaging very closely with them but unfortunately we have lots of many different views with the United States as well, as we have with Iran also. So, it is also not a very right assumption that we have to stop cooperating with the US and start with Iran also, we have been engaging in. Turkey has always been defending that Iran should be a part of the solution on the Syrian or the regional issues because we do not believe there will be a solution if a big country in our region like Iran is not being engaged and we have always resisted attempts to isolate Iran and this is the same in Syrian case as well. 

Now on the migration policy, will it change? I mean this was an agreement which we reached with Europe which had commitments from both sides. We believe we did all our commitments and the EU side also had to fulfill their commitments and one of the basic commitments which we had why we went into disagreement on was a visa free travel for Turkish citizens and unfortunately we are hearing from the European Union officials that now they would not probably, this year it will not happen while according to the agreement it should have happened until October. So, we will see. Our foreign ministry also made a statement yesterday that if this visa free element of the agreement is not being fulfilled, then we would also resend our fulfillments from this agreement. So, we will wait and see. It depends on the European Union. 

On the question about the future of our EU membership and our relationship with the EU, that is a very long story. I mean Turkey has been the longest negotiating member with the EU. We applied more than 53 years ago to the European Union and we are still not a member while we sincerely believe we fulfilled the basic criteria for the membership even more than some existing members of the EU countries both in terms of democracy and human rights and also in terms of economic development but we know the reason why some at least European Union or European leaders and political groups do not want Turkey because they do not want a big Muslim country like Turkey to become an equal of themselves. That is the plain truth and it was not being openly said until the recent years but now it is being more said. Frankly speaking, I think the interest in Turkey towards EU membership has also been in decline and the EU is becoming a hero for us because we have done, we have improved our democracy and human rights standards without being an EU full member. We have improved our economy dramatically without being an EU full member. So, we do not need that. It is more of a symbolic issue for us now, I think, the EU membership and if some EU members and some EU leaders continue their discriminatory attitudes towards Turkey, I think we might even ourselves, before the EU makes a decision, we might ourselves make a decision in that sense. 

Now the question about the EU-NATO dispose, I think I answered a little bit about that when I was speaking with you. NATO, of course, is a different thing. It is a military alliance and we have no problems with NATO so far in terms of fulfilling our mutual commitments. So, that is why it is not an issue and it was not an issue before the coup and it is not an issue after the coup. 

Now what really went wrong? I mean about was it expected large-scale purge in the army the coup as the people started this process? Yes, there are certain hearings but it is still early to tell I mean because we will probably know the full reality maybe after examining all the existing documents after a lot of people have been detained which are now suspicious to be involved in this coup attempt and what will they say in their testimonies. But obviously the high military council which meets annually in Turkey and which was supposed to meet early this month and there were rumors probably, they had heard that a big group of high officials would be fired from the army. Maybe they wanted to preempt that and get into this coup attempt. It could be the reason but we will see. 

Now will our president become further authoritarian after the failed coup attempt? I think what besides we have been seeing is just the opposite. He even withdrew all his personal cases against some including the opposition leaders and also against some journalists that they had defamed him, all of them as a gesture of responding constructively to the rapprochement we have been seeing in Turkey in the political field. So, this gives us hope and he has been meeting with the opposition leaders which we did not see unfortunately in the recent period in Turkey. So, we hope that it not will happen and I do not think that will be the case. 

Now on decapitating of a soldier, that is also still like an urban legend but did that incident really happen? No, I mean no hospital after that night has a decapitated body. We had a lot of, of course, casualties; 246 people are martyred as well as some of the coup supporters, some 30 or 40 of them. So, more than almost 300 people died and not a single body was decapitated. Unfortunately, you know when you have such incidents especially in our region, a lot of disinformation come out. I was just reading an article in a pro-government paper last night about this very incident. I have also seen those pictures you know. Some 2 or 3 men, when we look at them, we see them like they are members of Daesh or Salafist people. They were carrying a soldier which there was all blood on his throat. But there is a real story behind it and it was explained in that newspaper, these people actually were trying to help some other people just after the soldiers gave up and they were trying to be beaten up by some civilians and the security guys were trying to save them because they wanted to detain them and they did not want them to be punished by the people. And these 3 or 4 Daesh-like people, because after that they interviewed with them, said no we tried to save the poor soldier although we went there to support and to resist these people but we do not want them to be punished like that. So, there are a lot of things and I hope that we do not have such cultural violence in Turkey and I hope we do not have that in the future. 

Now, the last question was Turkey and Iran as big countries would better have a better relationship. Well, of course as I said earlier in my words and as you said that Dr. Barzegar, we already have a good basis for that and after this I think we will continue that and as I said, we hope to reflect that closeness also in our regional policies. It is not so easy and I am not naïve. The things and the issues we have to tackle are very complicated and there are no quick fixes to them but we have to work hand in hand and we have to work towards a common goal. If we can manage that, if we can start the process with them, I think it will change.

Dr. Barzegar: Ok, thank you! Now we go for another round of questions. 

Ambassador Takin: I forgot one question, sorry. It was about Syria. 

Dr. Barzegar: Ooh please! Syria’s issue is already exhausted. Later we come back to that. 

Ambassador Takin: No, very specific and very briefly about the federalism issue. 

Dr. Barzegar: You are right, sorry!

Ambassador Takin: In this regard, Turkey has always supported the territorial integrity of Syria and our position on that sense is intact. We do not want Syria to be divided. What type of internal government structure would Syria have? Will it have a federal, nonfederal or military? That is the decision of the Syrian people and if the Syrian people as a whole decide to have a federal government, we have no problem with that.

Question: My name is Behzad Ahmadi Lafouraki and I am a visiting research fellow at this Institute and also a Ph.D. student of international relations at Shahid Beheshti University. I have a brief question for you. As we know, since 2002 the self-image of strategic thinking of Turkey has been changed which has a lot of effects on Turkey’s economy and security policies. Is it possible that after the coup we see another change in the thinking strategy of Mr. Erdogan which will result in closer cooperation between Iran and Russia and Turkey? 

Question: Thank you Mr. Ambassador. Today, we see the Kurds are acting more convergent in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Also, they have a close relationship with the United States. Therefore, do you think that President Erdogan government’s strategy towards the PKK has failed? Do you see any chance for changing his policy towards them? Thanks again.

Question: Good afternoon! I am Jafar Gholizadeh. Mr. Ambassador, I have two questions. We see that many researchers in international relations believe that unfortunately, the government of Turkey does not have any strategy for fighting ISIS. What is your viewpoint about this issue? On the analysis of this failed coup, the government of Turkey insists on the role of Fethullah Gulen, but I believe that his role was very weak; Fethullah Gulen is a weak man. Maybe the other groups have had roles but the Turkish government does not say anything about them. What is your opinion about that? Thanks!

Question: Welcome to our Institute. My name is Abdolrasool Divsallar and I am a visiting research fellow at this Institute and a Ph.D. student of political Science (Iran issues) at University of Tehran. I would like to, first of all, talk about my own opinion about the restructuring of the system in Turkey by President Erdogan. It seems that he has made a very calculated move in order to restructure or make security service reforms. What is the final picture of this reform? I mean what is the final picture of President Erdogan and his security reform? I think it is finally about improving security and military strength. Also and in this regard, is he going to make any sort of change in military cooperation between Turkey and its allies for instance Azerbaijan or Qatar or other countries? 

Dr. Barzegar: With this last, we will finish the second round.

Question: Good afternoon! My name is Fahimeh Ghorbani and I am a research fellow at this Institute and also a Ph.D. student of International Relations at the Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch in Tehran. We know that Turkey is going to become an energy hub. So I wanted to know what would be the impact of Turkey’s coup on this energy strategy?

Dr. Barzegar: Ok Mr. Ambassador! I myself have one last question.

Ambassador Takin: Sure! Now on the first question, after the coup will there be a change of strategy in the thinking of our president? Well, in policy both in domestic policy and foreign policy, nothing is constant. It is always in flux and especially for a country like Turkey, we are stationed in a very strategic position in the world and in the region. So, we cannot cover our eyes to carry out on some certain parameters without changing them or without adopting them to the things going on in our region. So, obviously this has been done and even since 2002, there has been some changes and so, this will continue. But the one thing that would not change is our vision for our region. What is that vision? It is that we want to have such sort of relationship to be established between the countries in our region that the existing borders are rendered meaningless. What we mean in that is that we have a very extensive interaction socially, economically, commercially and culturally. So, we can add value also within the region not with the outside help or outside intervention both to our security and also to our prosperity. So, that vision will not change. How to reach that vision? Of course, you can always use different instruments and different policies. So, obviously the rulers of our country whoever rules, Recep Tayyib Erdogan now or somebody else in the future, I think will just make necessary adjustment in that line and it will be the same for our relationship. But some countries of course Iran and Turkey, we are always here; we are big countries and we have big influence in our region. So, these factors would not change. You can have some countries, some smaller sized countries, to become more active, less active depending on some developments internally or outside developments. But for countries like Turkey and Iran that is not the case. That is why our engagement and our involvements with Iran would continue like you mentioned Russia and the others. 

Now the other question about that our government tried to be objective that PKK was being demolished but it did not achieve that aim. Now, we have some, of course, problems with that analysis with all due respect. Fighting terrorism is not an easy thing. I mean you cannot of course eradicate it easily especially they are getting outside support. So, this we have been dealing with them in terms of fighting the PKK terrorists. We have been fighting with them for more than 30 to 33 years but we have not won yet because we do not have others. So, at the same time, it will be I think unfair to describe what our current government like it or not, the AKP government for the last 13 years, that they were always against the Kurds or that they always wanted to fight the PKK. This is the first government in the history of Turkey that they opened up to the Kurdish people in Turkey. Even with the PKK, they started as a terrorist group which has resulted in the death of more than 40 thousand of our citizens. We started a process with them. Unfortunately you know how it turned out and the reforms, the human rights reforms especially targeting the Kurdish citizens of our country were all done while Recep Tayyib Erdogan was our prime minster. So, I think we have to be careful while making some remarks about that is it very much against Kurds or PKK? I mean this government has done a lot but it takes two to tango. I mean it is not only that the other side wants more and we have to give. This has to be a last thing agreement that you have to have a sort of social contract but we could not manage that and it was not because of our government’s actions. Now that is why I do not think, unless PKK changes its frame of mind resorting to violence, I think it will be hard for us and for any government in Turkey not only this government to reengage with them likely in the few years ago. Let’s hope that they will draw their conclusions. 

In another question, someone asked me that there was no serious motivation in fighting with Daesh and we keep with fighting the PKK. I do not think so. It is also an unfair criticism. I mean we do not discriminate against terrorist groups. Whoever is involved in terrorism, for us it is some group that we have to fight either individually or together with our international partners. Now, in terms of fighting Daesh especially in terms of the flow of foreign fighters from Europe especially, from Western countries into Syria, we called upon so many times to our Western friends and governments that we need information, we need intelligence because Turkey is a country which is not like an obscure country in a corner of the world. We are in the heart of a very important region and we are also a very big tourist destination. Every year, more than 41 million foreigners visit Turkey and all over the country and the region close to Syria is also some of the tourist equation is very close to them. So, we have a lot of activities and we have a lot of borders, as I mentioned, 911 kilometers of borders with Syria and to fully control that has always been a challenge. But when the threat got even more serious, then of course we tried to make even more investment to control them. Only our Western friends started to collaborate with us when some Daesh terrorists started terrorist activities in Europe. When they saw this bloodshed in their own throat, only after that they realized that ok they have to share. And also, I have to give you an example of this last attack, this despicable attack in France just last week when this Daesh terrorist cut off the throat of the French priest. One of those perpetrators had been to Turkey twice and twice he was deported because of his suspected ties with Daesh and what did French do? They just left them alone. So, this is an international effect.

Now, was this a calculated move of our president? If you mean that the coup was a sort of set up that is of course not true at all. But would he use this opportunity even though it was of course an illegitimate coup in terms of what it is, would he use the situation to further strengthen his power and increase his control? We will see. I mean we do not think so. As I said, the unity in the parliament shown after the coup gives us hope that yes, everybody in Turkey understood the real importance of parliament. Besides, it was the first place where these coup people bombed and they bombed the parliament with our own F16s. I do not think there is any example of that in the history of coups in many other countries. So, I think right now we have an atmosphere in Turkey that whatever we do of course we face a very serious threat, an existential threat, in terms of sustaining our system of government of Turkey. So, we have to rectify some things obviously because we have to change some things but all we have done, when you look at the statements of the leaders including our president and our prime minister and the opposition leaders hand in hand together to bring constitutional change, the government needs the opposition parties. They cannot do it; they cannot change the constitution. So, even if they want to have restructuring, they would need the opposition. So, that gives us hope that it would be more broad based changes that would be brought upon.
About the last question regarding the energy, would that have impact? I do not think so. I mean with regards to energy for instance if such a serious incident had happened to any other country, possibly the economy would have collapsed in a few days. What we saw in Turkey, even the stock exchanges. I mean all these economic indicators did not change. There was not a dramatic change. There was not an outflow of capital from Turkey because we are one of the countries in our region especially that have had a big flow of foreign investment. Nothing happened in that sense. Of course, people are worried; people are concerned including some investors, including people in the economy sector but no. And in terms of energy also, in the energy sector we always have to think long-term and our plans and our policies are certainly this way always with regards to long-term strategy and we want to turn our country which is already. Although we are, in terms of resources, a poor country. We do not have oil or gas resources but we are very much a consumer country that the consumption is further increasing. That is why we have to buy more energy from Iran, from Russia and from other resources and we are also in a strategic position that we think we can turn our country into an energy hub and that is why it could be a place with a lot of pipelines, a lot of refineries, a lot of energy transfer equipment could be established and built up freely because our free market economy has a very strong base and we believe we still can do that. In this coup attempt, thank God they did not affect those policies. 

Dr. Barzegar: Thank you! We are almost at the end of this session. Let me raise my last question.   

Ambassador Takin: We still have ten more minutes.

Dr. Barzegar: Yes and we take advantage of that ten minutes for face to face discussions and exchanges during the reception. But my question is how the party and the Turkish leadership somehow were successful in handling the coup, I mean, especially President Erdogan himself. We also saw a great deal of intra AKP party and inter- parties’ unity in supporting the government. How do you see this effort?

Ambassador Takin: I think the easy answer to that is because people understood that this was some act carried out against themselves and against the will of the people. That is why they owned the system even though some people among them who had nothing to do with President Erdogan or the AKP party, they went to the streets just to defeat the coup people. 

About President Erdogan, whether you like him or not, one thing is for sure. He is a very charismatic leader and he is a very strong political leader. I mean you may criticize his policies, his mindset, his worldview but he is a real leader and especially in such times of challenging situations, this is more important than we leave that in Turkey because if we had panicked, we know them; of course I do not know, this is not an official information but we read a lot of important things in the press because he was in the southwest part of Turkey at that night holidaying with his family and very close to the Greek islands. Some of his aides even suggested him that, because he has the helicopter, we can take you to safety to one Greek island and he resisted that. He said I would never do that. And also more importantly of course how the people’s message or how the parties’, the leaders’ message had found the channel to be delivered to the people. That is also I think a turning point for the results of what happened that night and also I think that would an example also for other countries, the role of media. That was I think very very instrumental. I mean if our president could not have the opportunity to deliver his message through his cell phone with FaceTime, because he did not have the chance to organize a press conference because some were already on their way to capture him. So even in that difficult situation, because we are living in a world now you can deliver your message instantly to a wide audience. So, I think Turkish press, Turkish media also played an instrumental role and the private media especially because the state media, as you may know, some of you have watched, was captured by some coup soldiers and they made a statement read out in that. But at the same time, all the private channels were disseminating the messages of our government leaders and other of our opposition leaders. 

So, it had no effect. It was not like in the coup of 1980 which I lived that when I was a 13 year old child at that time. I mean early morning we switched on the single channel on TV and saw the generals, they just sent the group of soldiers to TRT and they delivered their message and finished. The coup was successful. It is not like that anymore and the people of course, I mean the resistance of people, the sacrifice of the people of course no words are enough to explain that and we hope that it is also, the effect of that will be seen beyond Turkey that no other people, no other circle would dare to do something in their own countries against the will of their own people.

Dr. Barzegar: Ok, thank you Ambassador Riza Hakan Tekin, ambassador of the Republic of Turkey in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Thanks for being this much attentive, engaging and patient in answering all the questions and comments. I thought this was very good and informative. We finish now and go directly to take a group photo and then a simple reception. 

Ambassador Takin:
I want to thank you first of all for organizing this. It is always a pleasure for me to interact with you but I also want to thank all of you present here for your attention, for your interest in what is going on in Turkey. Of course, some of the things which I said and maybe most of the things which I might have said you might not agree with that which is very normal. Of course, the important thing is try to communicate, try to understand each other and also to bridge the differences as much as we can and as embassy and as the ambassador, we are always ready to make efforts in that line. Thank you very much.  (audiences applause)

Report: Fahimeh Ghorbani, a research fellow at IMESS     

For Academic Citation: 

"Turkish Regional Policy after the Coup", Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, August 1, 2016.



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