By Mohammad Mazhari

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December 13, 2020 - 10:37

During his visit to Baku on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended a parade in which he recited an Azeri poem about the division of Azerbaijan’s territory between Russia and Iran in the 19th century.

Tehran believes that recitation of this piece of the poem by Erdogan is “meddlesome and unacceptable”. It fans a sense of separatism in Iran.

Erdogan was in the Azeri capital Baku to review a military parade marking Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave that ended last month.

It is not clear whether the Turkish president deliberately recited this piece of a poem or it was just an emotional remark. However, the coincidence of this poem and the anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Iran’s Azerbaijan (December 12, 1945) carries a provocative message.

Iranian authorities and media say the poem recited in Baku is one of the separatist symbols of pan-Turkism.

It said the verses point to Aras and “complains of the distance between Azeri-speaking people on the two sides of the river.”

The poem includes the lines: “They separated the Aras River and filled it with rocks and rods. I will not be separated from you. They have separated us forcibly.”

According to the Treaty of Gulistan between the Russian Empire and Iran on 24 October 1813 in the village of Gulistan (now in Goranboy Rayon of Azerbaijan), which was signed after the first full-scale 1804-1813 Russo-Persian War, what is now Daghestan, eastern Georgia, most of the Republic of Azerbaijan and parts of northern Iran were ceded to the Russian Empire.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reacted to Erdogan, tweeting, “President Erdogan was not informed that what he ill-recited in Baku refers to the forcible separation of areas … from [the] Iranian motherland.”

“NO ONE can talk about OUR beloved Azerbaijan,” Zarif said, referring to the northwest region of Iran where many of its ethnic Azeris live.

This verse has been heard by people on both sides of Aras in albums of Azeri folk music in Iran, even with an official license. It has been sung many times by various singers for a long time and no one has protested.

Whoever the poet was, he pointed out that the people of the same language were separated as a result of the Iran-Russia war.

Some may consider it a cynic view to concluding that this poem is used to question the territorial integrity of Iran. But this pessimism doesn’t seem to be baseless; the Iranians closely followed Turkey's provocative role during the Nagorno-Karabakh war and were concerned about the policy of transferring Takfiri terrorists from Syria to the disputed region between Iran’s northern neighbors.

The reaction of Hesamuddin Ashna, the advisor to Iranian President Hasan Rouhani shows that Iran is monitoring the activities of Turkish think tanks which are connected with the pan-Turk separatists.

Ashna, writing on Twitter, blamed Erdogan’s poem on the Center for Iranian Studies (IRAM), an Ankara-based think tank that has long been suspected by some Iranians as pushing for the disintegration of Iran through creating discord among Iran’s ethnic minorities. 
But apart from the media fuss and different political attitudes, we must mention a few points about Erdogan's provocative policies.

Turkey's foreign policy under Recep Tayyip Erdogan's nearly 20-year rule is rampant with creating instabilities and a demonstration of highly volatile behaviors. During these years, Turkey's foreign relations have fluctuated between zero differences with neighbors to confrontations. At present, Turkey's relations with most of its neighbors are not desirable at all.

Turkey is geographically located between countries, most of which are either in a state of severed relations or strained relationship with Ankara. Syria, Iraq, Armenia, Greece, Cyprus, and Bulgaria are examples. Among these neighbors, Turkey's relations with Iran and Azerbaijan are an exception.

Although, Iran and Turkey have been striving for friendly and stable relations in recent years, Erdogan's remarks on Thursday about Aras-linked areas reminded Iranians of Erdogan's adventures in Syria, a country that had the closest relations with Turkey before the crisis began in 2011.

It is well known in the Arab world that Erdogan longs for the revival of the Ottoman Empire. The Arabs call it Ottoman colonization, while the Iranians call it the Ottoman Empire. That is the difference between the Arabs and Iranians’ views of the Ottomans. The Iranians see the Ottoman Empire as only a political rival and the Arabs consider it as a usurping colonial enemy.

With the establishment of the Safavid rule by Shah Ismail in Iran, the enmity between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Ottoman Empire started to intensify, though both dynasties were of Turkish descent with racial and religious affinities. But in the first step, Sultan Salim I, the fanatical Ottoman caliph, massacred 40,000 Shiites living in the Ottoman Empire territory, suspecting they were going to migrate to Iran and join Shah Ismail’s army. Sultan Salim, I then wrote a letter to King Ismail requesting that Iran be annexed to the Ottoman territory. Shah Ismail refused and from this time on, Sultan Salim I and other Ottoman sultans continued wars against Iran (Persia) under various pretexts.

Although at first glance the reason for the differences between the Safavids and the Ottomans was over religion, in fact, a set of political-economic factors, border expansionism, non-recognition of each other, and European conspiracies to weaken the Ottomans are the real roots of these long-term tensions between Safavids and Ottomans.

The Europeans in particular took great advantage of the hostility between Iran and the Ottomans. According to European writers, it would not have taken a long time for the Ottoman Turks to conquer European lands one after the other, and European countries could not survive from the Ottoman invasion without preoccupying the Ottoman empire with the Safavids. 

European states succeeded to exploit the discord between Iran and the Ottoman Empire and tried to provoke the two sides against one another. On the one hand, they indirectly encouraged the Ottomans to aggress Persia through spies and mercenaries in the Ottoman court, and on the other hand, they helped the Iranians to reinforce their naval force and armed the Iranian army.

Let’s imagine for a moment what would have happened if the Safavids and the Ottomans as two regional powers had stood side by side instead of confronting and stabbing one another’s back? Who could imagine that a great empire will collapse one day? 

Even today, the Saudi-Emirati media call Iran “Safavid” and the Erdogan government “the colonial Ottoman Empire”. It means the formation of independent and emerging powers in the region led by Iran and Turkey. That is why our enemies are plotting to undermine and even disintegrate the two Islamic powers. In their plan, Iran must be engaged in internal conflicts and Turkey must sink into the mire of regional tensions, and one of the best tools is to sow discord between Iran and Turkey by using separatist mercenaries.

Iran's history bears witness to the religious spirit of the Iranians and their national sensitivity to territorial integrity. Any attempt to sow discord among the Iranian ethnic groups has ultimately led to the strengthening of national unity.

In his eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein failed to create divisions between Iran’s ethnicities. On the contrary, the war united the Iranians over one cause: national sovereignty. An interesting point was that the Arabs of Iran formed the first front to confront Saddam and defend their territory. So let us not forget the Chaldoran war that was triggered by Sultan Salim with the aim of disintegrating Iran, however, it paved the way for Safavids’ next victories.

If Erdogan wants to revive a strong and independent Turkey in the Ottoman way, he will surely be given a green light by Iran, but only if the Ottoman-Safavid historical mistakes will not be repeated.  This time we can stand together and not stab one another in the back.
Therefore, to become a regional power, it is necessary to form a coalition, which means Iran and Turkey need to rely on each other.

Historical experience has shown the Turks cannot count on Western and European powers who just follow “divide and rule policy”. If a coup takes place in Turkey, they just wait for the result to congratulate the final winner, while in the 2016 coup Iran made every effort to support the Erdogan government.

Erdogan should not forget when the UAE and Saudi Arabia were waiting to celebrate the fall of his government, Tehran was striving to stabilize Turkey.

Iran wants to be strong and influential in the region and has shown that it is ready to pay the price of its independence; however, it does not follow the policy of disintegration and destabilization of neighbors, because we all know that any side that uses wrong and immoral methods to undermine others will end up paying a heavy price. When one claims Greater Azerbaijan, he should also expect Greater Kurdistan, and perhaps other ethnic and religious conflicts.

The point is that our region is an intertwined mix of ethnicities and religions and any adventurous step may lead to the magic turn against the magician.

In a word, we never forget that ancient Iran was geographically larger than present-day Iran, and many of our northern neighbors once were part of great Iran.

However, Iran never questioned the national sovereignty of those countries. Instead, it sought to consolidate historical and cultural ties with them as independent countries. 

But if anyone questions the national sovereignty of Iran, we will surely remind him that it was not Iran that was separated from these areas, but they were the ones which were forcibly divided and separated from their homeland Iran. Also, our hearts transcend borders to reach our brothers and sisters both in eastern Iran and north of Aras.

Definitely, all Iranians whisper that “They separated the Aras River. They have separated us forcibly.” 

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