Senior Iranian officials have condemned the attempted coup in Turkey, praising the Turkish people’s “brave defence” of democracy in the country.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was the first Iranian official to publicly react to the events of July 14. “The brave defense of the Turkish people of democracy and of their elected government showed that coup d’états have no place in our region and are doomed to failure,” he tweeted.
On Sunday, July 18, Zarif gave a brief statement to parliament, demonstrating just how seriously the Iranian government took events in Istanbul.
“On the night of the Turkish coup, Ali Shamkhani, Ghasem Soleimani and I were following the events,” Zarif told parliament. Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani is the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran. General Ghasem Soleimani commands the Qods special forces, and has considerable influence in the region.
Iranian media reported that Zarif spoke on the phone three times with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as events unfolded in Istanbul.
“Stability, democracy and security of the Turkish people are essential,” Zarif posted in another tweet.
Other officials also went on to social media to express their opinions and support for the Turkish government. “The neighboring Muslim people of Turkey will regain their sovereignty,” tweeted Hamid Abu Talebi, President Rouhani’s political deputy. “We have never been indifferent to coups and violations of people’s sovereignty.”
Ali Shamkhani reported that the Supreme National Security Council had met during the attempt to overthrow Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran officially condemns the coup and supports the lawful government of Turkey,” he said. Like Zarif, he said he had been in “close contact” with Turkish officials.
Like other Iranian officials, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who currently works as a diplomatic advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei on international affairs, also condemned the coup. At the same time, he took the opportunity to make barbed comments about Erdogan and his government’s policy in the region. “I hope the time comes when the Turkish government will respect the views and votes of the Syrian people and allow them to decide their own government,” he said. He also said that if Erdogan claims to be restoring Islamic values, this should bring the governments of Turkey and Iran closer, adding that he was hopeful that the two countries could solve their differences over Syria.
President Hassan Rouhani agreed. “The time for coup d’états and forcing guns and tanks on people is over,” he said. “Today, only the ballot box can solve the problems of Iran, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain.” The fact that Rouhani included Iran in his list could be construed as a message aimed at certain Iranian military figures who have caused problems for Rouhani — and may be entertaining ideas that could lead to further trouble for his administration. The reference to Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen is of course is a clear message to Saudi Arabia.
Judging from this, it would appear that Iranian officials are generally trying to grasp the opportunity to prove their good will toward the Turkish government, and to improve relations with Turkey. Government-affiliated media have followed the same approach. “Democracy was victorious with the support of parties, the media and popular grassroots,” said one article published in Iran newspaper, which is affiliated with the office of President Rouhani.
The Syrian Factor
Though Iranian officials have not questioned the authenticity of recent events in Turkey, some Iranian media presented a different interpretation of events. In one analysis, hardliner newspaper Kayhan claimed that Turkish people came out on the streets to confront the military because in recent weeks Erdogan had shown a more positive approach toward the Syrian situation and had apologized to the Russian President Vladimir Putin for bringing down a Russian jet fighter.
The newspaper Javan criticized the “adventurism” of Erdogan in foreign policy in recent years, and said that the coup attempt provided a good opportunity for him to change the political structure of Turkey. Other Iranian media outlets predicted that after the coup, Erdogan would settle his scores with his opponents in the military and the judiciary and take final steps to shift Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. Still others subscribed to conspiracy theories. Some claimed the attempted coup had been a “show” put on by Erdogan to strengthen his position and to obliterate his opponents. In spite of such analyses, Iranian officials refrained from commenting on the nature of the attempted coup and focused on lending support to Erdogan’s government.
Over the last five years, Turkish-Iranian relations have experienced many up and downs, especially when it comes to the civil war in Syria. In mid-July, Iranian officials welcomed reports that the Turkish government was willing to talk to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They described it as a positive shift in Turkish foreign policy, and that it could go some way toward solving the Syrian crisis. The coordinated and categorical expressions of support for Erdogan’s government on behalf of Iranian officials can be seen as another positive step in improving relations between the two countries.
On Sunday, July 17, the Syrian Free Army, a major opponent of Assad’s regime, expressed its joy over events in Turkey. At the moment, it is not clear whether Turkey’s post-coup foreign policy will favor Assad’s opponents or his supporters, which include Iran. But it is obvious that both sides are trying to take advantage of the situation in Turkey, using it to push their own agendas and visions.