News / Middle East

Turkey, Iran Show Signs of Deep Division Over Syria

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu [R] welcomes Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili [2nd R] before their meeting in Istanbul, April 14, 2012.Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu [R] welcomes Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili [2nd R] before their meeting in Istanbul, April 14, 2012.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu [R] welcomes Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili [2nd R] before their meeting in Istanbul, April 14, 2012.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu [R] welcomes Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili [2nd R] before their meeting in Istanbul, April 14, 2012.
Dorian Jones
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Relations between once close allies Iran and Turkey are rapidly deteriorating over Ankara's strong support for Syrian rebels fighting against Iran's key ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In an unprecedented move, Tehran suspended visa-free travel with Turkey for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Iran observer Mehrdad Emadi, who works for the international affairs consultant firm "Betamax," said the suspension of visa-free travel is significant.

"It is quite actually meaningful in the context of the rising tensions between the two countries," said Emadi. "And, I think there are too many sources behind this growing tension - one is the conflicting positions in the management of the Syrian crisis. We have never had such a thorny relationship between the two countries."

Iran alienates Ankara

Iranian leaders and senior diplomats increasingly have toughened their rhetoric against Ankara. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week accused Tehran of being ungrateful for his government's efforts to defuse international tensions over Iran's controversial nuclear program. Two years ago, Turkey  - as a temporary member of the U.N. Security Council - voted against Iran sanctions.   

Former senior Turkish diplomat Murat Bilhan said it is difficult to read Iran.
"The Iranian chief of general staff threatens Turkey in a press conference, but then the minister of foreign affairs denies it. Which one are you to believe?" asks Bilhan.

Bilhan said one factor behind the mixed messages is that Tehran is looking to Ankara to use its contacts to secure the release of 48 Iranians seized by rebels in Syria.

But Iran watcher Emadi said it also could be a sign of divisions within Iranian leadership.

"It has never been more disunited and uncoordinated in regards to its foreign policy."

Kurdish remains key concern

One other worry for Ankara is the major long-standing Kurdish issue.

Tehran during the 1990's provided support to the Kurdish rebel group the PKK in its fight for greater minority rights in Turkey. Emadi said Tehran might again be tempted to use the PKK against Ankara, but said it's a dangerous game.

"Iran has a very large Kurdish population and in recent years this population has become more vocal and most restive. But Iran sometimes has opted very, very high-risk options."

Some experts forsee rough road

Political columnist for the pro Islamic newspaper Yeni Safak, Akif Emre, said with Iranian-Turkish relations now linked to the crisis in Syria, tensions could worsen.

"If the crisis is getting deeper, that means the Iran and Turkish problem is getting deeper. This is very dangerous. The Syrian crisis is not limited to Syrian national borders. It could become a real regional crisis, maybe war," said Emre.

This Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will host U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss support for the Syrian opposition.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs