What’s Zarif’s Hidden Aim?
For the past few days, Turkey-Iran relations have been facing an artificial crisis. The crisis apparently began with reactions to a poem which is famous for Iran and Azerbaijan that President Erdogan recited at the December 10 Victory Parade Ceremony in Baku. Upon hearing the poem, Persian nationalists put forward on social media that the mentioning of the Aras River and forced separation targeted Iran's territorial integrity. Since the xenophobia in general and the hostility/intolerance against Turks, Turkey and Azerbaijan, in particular, are common among these segments of people, the reactions were not taken too seriously. However, the day after the event, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javad Zarif, contrary to diplomatic conventions and the principles of minimum respect, in Persian, “Pres. Erdogan was not informed that what he ill-recited in Baku refers to the forcible separation of areas north of Aras from Iranian motherland Didn't he realize that he was undermining the sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan? NO ONE can talk about OUR beloved Azerbaijan.” tweeted as. After that, curses, the commonly used slang equivalent of the word “ghalat” chosen in the statement, became Trend Topic (TT) in Iran.
It is still a mystery why Zarif, one of the most experienced diplomats raised by the Islamic Republic, targeted the leader of Iran's most important neighbour by ignoring the minimum rules of courtesy and diplomatic practices. Indeed, he has not spoken on this topic since then. However, those who follow Iran closely have noticed the discomfort of some Persian nationalists who have clustered around Zarif for the past two months. After the mismanagement of the Karabakh crisis, failure to read events correctly, confusion and tides occurred, the leader of the country, Khamenei, said with a harsh emphasis: “All Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia should be given back to Azerbaijan.” and repeated the word "all" was a serious cold shower for Zarif and his team, who were trying to pursue a balanceed policy between Baku and Yerevan. Despite this statement by Khamenei, who is considered a constitutionally and religiously indisputable authority, even today, names close to Zarif say “If only we had openly entered the war on the side of Armenia." Their ability to speak in this way shows how powerful the nationalist vein is in question and that they can ignore even the highest authority when necessary. This indigestion and anger are so strong that the assurances and offers of Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, who went to Tehran during the Victory Parade Ceremonies and met with many officials or Erdogan's proposal to include Iran in the Six-country Regional Cooperation Platform has not alleviated the hysteria in the country.
The nationalist wave provoked by Zarif quickly resonated in the Assembly, and 225 deputies issued a statement condemning “intervention in Iran's internal affairs”. As to Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash’s speech, it was a complete disaster. He expressed his supports for the sanctions of the United States and the EU, which planned to impose on Turkey by alleging the role of Erdogan was more than the role played by Netanyahu in the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. As expected, the Iranian Press did its part, and dozens of headlines which used Erdogan cartoons and insulting gestures have been found space in the print media.
As some Iranian officials have said that although it is unclear what lies beneath this anger against Turkey, Iran's most important foreign trade connection under heavy sanctions, even the symbol names of Persian nationalism living abroad criticize Zarif; statements that poem, like the parting song, which is very common, is known and recited by everyone and does not have an anti-Iranian aspect, makes people think that the only motivation of Zarif is not nationalism. With less than a year before the elections, the Rouhani government's only hope is that the Biden administration will return to the Nuclear Deal and the economy, now alarming for collapse, will start to recover. One of the forthcoming presidential candidates of the Rouhani government, which emphasizes Biden and the Nuclear Agreement after each cabinet meeting, is Javad Zarif. In addition, there are some allegations that the parties have started preliminary negotiations via Oman. There are reports that Zarif has sent a message to some anti-Turkey powers by opposing Erdogan, especially to the Biden administration, and waits for support from Washington in the election process.
As a result, there is a certain characteristic of the Turkey-Iran relations, which is constantly emphasized, and the influence of some irresponsible statesmen on these relationships is limited. As a matter of fact, President Rouhani's cold-blooded statements on December 14 aimed at calming the crisis also reveal the importance that the Iranian state attaches to relations with Turkey. It is obvious that organizing campaigns through the media or giving delusions into the hands of some unconscious deputies will not benefit both countries, while the communication channels between the two countries are extremely diverse and wide.
This article is first published in 17.12.2020 at TRT Farsi.