Publisher: Routledge

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Iran-Turkey Relations 1979-2011:Conceptualizing the Dynamics of Politics, Religion and Security in the Middle-Power States

By: Suleyman Elik

Iran-Turkey Relations 1979-2011: Conceptualizing the Dynamics of Politics, Religion and Security in the Middle-Power States. New York: Routledge, 2012. 251 pp. $168.00. ISBN: 978-0415680875. E-bk.: $134.50. ISBN: 978-0203803028

Volume: 1 Issue: 4
August 2013

Review by
Hayat Alvi, PhD
Naval College
Annapolis, MD

Suleyman Elik’s scholarly research and analysis of Iran-Turkey relations during 1979-2011 is indispensable in understanding the politics, security, regional ambitions and agendas, and respective domestic issues involving these two “middle-power” states. Anoush Ehteshami writes the Foreword, in which he explains how Elik articulates Iran and Turkey’s bilateral relations—in essence, describing and analyzing “how and why Tehran and Ankara interact.” Elik effectively and analytically explains their use of soft power in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The Introduction provides the historical background of the “Asia Minor and Persia rivalry,” while at the same time providing an “Arab buffer” in the region. Elik begins with the 1926 Turkish-Iranian Friendship Agreement, and then he describes the post-1979 Islamic Revolution relations between the two countries. Elik mentions that Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is an Azeri Turk, something surely many people do not know. He also highlights historical bilateral economic relations, including the natural gas pipeline and mutual energy cooperation, which have been mutually exclusive to other concerns and issues in each domestic context.

Elik utilizes the theoretical framework of “Middle Power States,” comprising domestic, regional, and systemic levels of analysis, emphasizing that this study “contributes to a new definition of middle-power states and also identifies the boundaries of middle-power statecraft in international politics.” He further expands on the theoretical framework and the foundations of Iranian-Turkish relations in Chapter 1; and then in Chapter 2, he discusses the two countries’ diplomatic crises over the last few decades; Chapter 3 focuses on terrorism in both countries, including the Turkish Hezbollah, the PKK, and respective counter-terrorism efforts and strategies; Chapter 4 talks about post-Cold War Turkish-Iranian security relations, particularly concerning the Kurdish problem. Elik explains the levels of autonomy of both countries’ militaries (Turkey’s military and Iran’s IRGC), and similarities between Turkey’s National Security Council and Iran’s Guardian Council. He explains both countries’ use of the Palestinian card in domestic and regional politics, but emphasizes that both powers’ regional influence is still limited.

Chapter 5 talks about post-Cold War ethno-religious conflicts involving Iran and Turkey; Chapter 6 analyzes post-Cold War Turkish-Iranian energy relations in the Black and the Caspian Sea regions; and Chapter 7 examines both countries’ mutual economic relations from 1979 to 2011. These include gas deals, import/export, Turkey’s invitation to the G20, and “Turkey’s strategic economic opening towards the Middle East, especially Iran.” Elik also addresses the impact of economic sanctions on Iran, as well as Turkish-Iranian economic relations; and Chapter 8 re-articulates the theoretical framework of Middle Power-States, explaining the findings of the study, which can be summarized as peaceful coexistence between the two middle power-states—Iran and Turkey. According to Elik, Iranian-Turkish bureaucratic politics have been conducted with “a détente and cordial relationship since 1639.” In sum, Turkey and Iran “have all types of multi-balancing and multi-directional capacities.”

This book is extremely resourceful for anyone interested in Turkish-Iranian relations, and especially for students, scholars, and researchers who focus on the MENA region. The next edition, if there is one, might consider addressing the complications of Turkish-Iranian relations due to the civil war in Syria.

In the Introduction, Elik reminds us that, “this study is the first comprehensive attempt at exploring Iranian-Turkish relations since 1979.” He has done an outstanding job.