IS TURKEY MOVING AWAY FROM IRAN ?

By Sultan Alkhulaifi
Staff Writer 

Turkey shares a 560 km border with Iran that has not changed for 400 years. The two states share growing economic interests with each other, but different ideological and political backgrounds. Iran is a theocratic republic that was established after a revolution in 1979 that brought Shi’ite religious clergy to power. On the other hand, Turkey is a secular state that looked towards the West since its creation until the election of the Justice and Development Party in November 2002. Although Turkey and Iran have strong economic relations, they have different views on solving crises in places such as Yemen, Iraq and Syria. Despite stark political differences, both countries are pragmatic and are strengthening their economic relations.

The Houthis are considered an Iranian proxy group by Saudi Arabia as well as by its allies in the region. Saudi Arabia formed an alliance after the Houthis took over the capital of Yemen and were very close to taking over Aden, which became the new capital until the retake of Sana’a. In response to this, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered unpredictable support for the air campaign on the Houthis, condemning Iran for supporting terrorist organizations in the region. However, Iran responded by inviting Turkey’s charge d’affaires to express Iran’s objections to the Turkish president’s comments. The foreign ministry spokeswoman said that Iran demands an explanation from Turkey for these comments. Although Turkey supported the Arab alliance against the Houthis, Ankara is not ready to risk its delicate relationship with Tehran in the short run for regional competition that could complicate its internal politics and economy. Turkey has strong economic ties with Iran in sectors such as oil and gas, which gives Tehran leverage over Ankara because Ankara needs the Iranian supply of fossil fuels to continue its strong economic growth it has experienced over the last few years.

Moreover, Iran’s leverage over Turkey in oil and gas supplies affects Turkey’s economic growth and restrains its political maneuvers in the region. Turkey’s president visited Iran on April 7 and prioritized economics over politics. According to the Turkish foreign ministry, “Crude and natural gas dominate Iranian exports to Turkey with 90%.” It also notes that both governments have vowed to double the trade volume that has already reached more than $15 billion. Iran is the second largest gas and oil importer to Turkey after Russia. If Turkey aims to become an energy transportation hub, it will be forced to seek better relations with Iran and Russia. That means Europe may benefit from getting Iranian oil through Turkey, in turn causing it to decrease its dependence on Russian oil by diversifying its oil imports. This option will not be realized until relations are normalized between the West and Iran, which is contingent on signing a deal by June 2015. Iran is also dependent on Turkey since it was hit by sanctions and needs the flow of Turkish money to bolster its economy. Although both countries are interdependent in their relationship, Turkey has the lower hand since it relies on Iranian supplies of oil and gas to meet its domestic demand. The Iranian leverage can will be seen if Turkey is hit by electricity shortages in summer, which could cause domestic unrest. Also, the Syrian refugee crisis, in which Turkey hosts two million out of three million refugees, shows Turkey’s need to engage with Iran to solve the Syrian civil war.

Turkey has disagreed with the U.S. in its approach to the Iranian nuclear program. The U.S. was heavy handed in its dealings with Iran, an approach stemmed from Israeli lobbying efforts on Congress and the administration to stop Iran from developing a nuclear program. Due to this heavy handedness, Iran distrusted the U.S. and a new impartial mediator was needed to facilitate communication between world powers and Iran. As a result, Turkey engaged with Iran and convinced Iran to accept negotiations offered by the international community in 2002. The bargaining continued until 2006 after the U.S. imposed harsher sanctions on Iran. Iran conceded to Western demands after the U.S. sanctions, and the U.S. joined the negotiations in 2008. Turkey believes that a nuclear Iran would irreversibly create a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. That would pressure Turkey to acquire nuclear capabilities and pose more concerns to the stability of the region. Moreover, Turkey signaled a turn towards the East in 2009 after a statement by then Prime Minister Erdogan in his visit to Tehran, that Turkey has turned its face to the East. The statement comes after relentless efforts by Turkey to join the European Union (EU), but having its effort are blocked by European resistance. As a result, Turkey needs to offset what it would lose from disengaging from the EU politically by forging better relations with Iran.

Despite historical rivalries between Turkey and Iran, present-day Turkey does not perceive Iran as an existential threat as Saudi Arabia does. While it views the Iranian support to Assad’s regime as destabilizing to the region, it has still cooperated with Iran to keep the Kurds at bay. Iran has a history of supporting Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria, which affects Turkey’s Kurdish population and fuels separatist sentiments. In the 1980s and 1990s Iran sponsored Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated a terrorist organization in Turkey. Since the Justice and Development Party’s election in Turkey, Iran cooperated with Turkey and it stopped meddling in Turkey’s Kurdish population, allowing Turkey to start a peace process with Kurdistan Worker’s Party. The Kurdish separatist movements gave leverage to Iran since it allowed Iran to meddle in Turkey’s internal affairs and support Kurdish adversaries against the Turkish state.

In conclusion, Turkey is not pivoting away from Iran to the Sunni alliance because it needs Iran for help in the Syrian civil war that is on its borders. Moreover, Iran supports Turkish adversaries inside and around Turkey, as well as the Assad regime against Turkish backed Syrian rebels, creating a refugee crisis on the Turkish border. It could potentially destabilize Kurdish areas by supporting the Kurdish Worker’s Party. Turkey is going to manage its relationship with Iran delicately until it retains leverage in its economic ties with Iran, and prevent Iran from influencing the Kurds in case the peace talks fail.

Image By:  United Nations Photo

Whose Lives Matter?: A Conversation on Police Brutality Across Borders

By Carla Diot
Staff Writer

In recent response to the social unrest over the mysterious circumstances of 25-year old Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei published several tweets expressing solidarity to protesters, all while attacking the United States for its inadequate responses to the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin. Using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, Khamenei tweeted “It’s ridiculous that even though US President is black, still such crimes against US blacks continue to occur.” The additional tweets, which can be found on Khamenei’s Twitter page, are not the first time that Iran has used such incidents as a platform to attack the United States. During the height of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Ayatollah Khamenei attacked the United States, calling it the “biggest violator of #HumanRights,” committing not only international crimes, but crimes against its own citizens.

The perspective of the conversation on police brutality in the United States has been focused domestically. President Obama recently declared the allocation of $20million to local police departments across the United States to be used specifically for purchasing body cameras to monitor police behavior towards citizens. However, the nationwide issue has also had international repercussions. The United States has received criticism from the international community, including countries such as Egypt, Russia, and Iran, as well as in forums such as the United Nations. This has provoked an international conversation on police brutality, with the United States serving as the principle violator. Yet, many of the countries who saw the unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore as an opportunity to attack the United States have also been responsible for police brutality against their own citizens, and have, ironically, been criticized by the United States for doing so.

After the death of 18-year old Mike Brown, the town of Ferguson, Missouri erupted into a series of protests, and were met with escalated responses by St. Louis county police and the National Guard. In Ferguson, images of the high tensions between the protestors, the police, and the media were broadcast around the world. The images provided an opportunity for international political leaders and media to highlight the United States’ unsolved racial tensions. In Russia, government-controlled channels such as Russia Today and Rossiya 24 reported on the unrest, calling the scene a war zone. The conversation in Russia also focused on comparisons of the unrest in Missouri to the current unrest in Ukraine, even referring to the protests in Ferguson “Afromaidan.” The term gained significant ground and has also been used in describing the current ongoing protests in Baltimore. Russian politicians also got involved in attacking the United States, with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s representative for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, Konstantin Dolgov commenting that, “While urging other countries to guarantee freedom of speech and not to suppress anti-government protests, the U.S. authorities at home are none too soft on those actively expressing discontent over persistent inequalities, actual discrimination and the situation of ‘second class’ citizens.” While preaching these values, the Russian government eclipses their own treatment of second-class citizens.

In fact, Russia is not exempt from condoning brutality against its own citizens. In 2014, Human Rights Watch published License to Harm: Violence and Harassment against LGBT People and Activists in Russia. The report was scathing, accusing Russia of treating LGBT citizens as second-class citizens after the passage of a law banning “the promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships.” While the language behind the law was noted for its vagueness, its intention was clearly seen as attacking LGBT citizens. Since the passage of the law, Human Rights Watch noted a rise in brutality against LGBT citizens. Most of the subjects interviewed for Human Rights Watch claimed that while the attacks were from vigilante groups such as Occupy Pedophilia, police officers often sided with the attackers, with one officer even claiming he would have done the same thing to the victim. Police officers both sided with, and participated in violence against LGBT citizens and activists. For such reasons, brutality against LGBT citizens went unreported, leaving them without any rights to justice.

In Egypt, the foreign ministry called on the United States to show restraint towards demonstrators in Ferguson over the summer. The Foreign Ministry claimed that it was “closely following the escalation of protests” and urged the U.S. government to find answers to Mike Brown’s death. The Egyptian government’s call had come at a time when tensions between the two countries were strained after the Egyptian government arrested and convicted forty-three non-governmental (NGO) workers under charges of operating without a license. The case was controversial, as critics argued that the law was vague and used to control NGOs. Several months after the conviction of the workers, President Obama announced the suspension of military aid to the Egyptian government, only releasing it under conditions that Egypt show credible steps towards free and fair elections. The withholding of military aid was used to show displeasure with Egypt’s violation of human rights at the time. Thus, when instability struck Ferguson, it was an opportunity for Egypt to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the United States in its policing of human rights.

Yet in calling for restraint, Egypt conveniently clouds its recent history of violence against dissidents. One of the most notable cases of violence against protesters was the Raba’a massacre, whose two year anniversary will be commemorated in August 2015. The massacre occurred after supporters of the ousted Mohammad Morsi gathered around the Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque to protest the coup against Morsi. The group consisted mostly of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, a group that would continue to be targeted by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration after the massacre. The demonstrations began peacefully, with supporters establishing camps around the mosque, but when it came time to disperse the camps, supporters were met with violence from the police. Though the death toll of the massacre is still unknown, it is estimated to range from 600 to 1,000 deaths. The crackdown was met with heavy criticism from the international community, with many groups such as the United Nations calling it a violation of human rights law. The United States immediately addressed the massacre, with President Obama responding through sharp words and the cancellation of a joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercise, known as Bright Star. In his address, Obama noted that “the Egyptian people deserve better than what we’ve seen over the last several days.” The incident was seen as another step in the deterioration of U.S.-Egypt relations. However, even more notably, the incident failed to create real dialogues in addressing violence against citizens.

The time for the United States to address police brutality may have finally arrived. After the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Darrien Hunt, and Freddie Gray, the United States has begun to move towards repairing race relations, and ensuring equity in human rights. Countries such as Russia, Iran, and Egypt are justified in criticizing the human rights abuses of the United States, and their words should be taken seriously. Yet it is their intentions that are lacking and should be criticized. For these countries, including the United States, human rights goes from being a goal for countries to aspire towards, to a back-and-forth game in an international political arena. Countries should reconsider their use of human rights discourse as a propaganda tool, as it results in empty words and fear-mongering. Instead, criticisms of another country’s human rights violation should be used to conduct thoughtful self-reflection and as an initiative to address the abuses seen in a productive way domestically.

Photo by Light Brigading

WHY IT’S SO HARD FOR THE U.S. AND IRAN TO MAKE A DEAL

John Kerry meets with Iran's Vice President

By Rebecca Emrick
Staff Writer

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the relationship between the United States and Iran has been rocky at best. One aspect of the rocky relationship between the two countries has been Iran’s nuclear program. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which was ratified in 1970 was created in order to outline that “countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear technology.” According to the NPT, all countries are allowed to use nuclear capabilities, but only for peaceful purposes, such as energy production. However, states are not allowed to acquire nuclear capabilities past the point of peaceful purposes because that would mean that these nations could create nuclear weapons. Iran has not signed onto this treaty, and therefore didn’t formally commit to pursuing purely peaceful nuclear capabilities. Furthermore, in 2003 there was evidence that Iran had pursued and successfully created enriched uranium past what is needed for peaceful applications. However, Iran claimed that their enrichment of uranium was and has stayed at peaceful levels and that the evidence brought before the International Atomic Energy Agency was fabricated because they claimed that “the source of the uranium is imported equipment.”

Despite the circumstantial evidence that Iran was enriching uranium past peaceful uses, the U.S. Department of State has stated that “in response to Iran’s continued illicit nuclear activities, the United States and other countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions” in order to “prevent its further progress in prohibited nuclear activities, as well as to persuade Tehran to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.” Although these were not the first sanctions ever imposed on Iran by the U.S., the Iranian government and economy has nonetheless felt the economic pressure. According to the World Bank “the business environment [in Iran] remains a challenge with the country ranking 130th out of the 189 countries surveyed in the 2015 Doing Business Report” Iran’s private sector isn’t as successful as it should be for being the second largest economy in the Middle East. Iran is being economically challenged by the sanctions being imposed on them in the private sector because private businesses are extremely limited with regard to whom they can do business with.

On the other hand, Iran has seen economic growth from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 3 percent in 2014 “as a result of the temporary and partial easing of sanctions imposed on Iran’s oil exports.” As a result of some sanctions being lifted from Iran, their overall economic growth has almost doubled in one year. This is no easy feat, and it shows that the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran greatly affect their economy. So if Iran’s economy has nearly doubled in the last year, why would they want to work with the U.S. to lift more sanctions? A big ticket economic problem that Iran faces is unemployment. In Iran “unemployment remains elevated and is expected to be a central challenge for the government”, which gives the Iranian Government motivation to work toward some kind of nuclear agreement with the U.S. in order to lift further sanctions in the hope of creating more jobs for Iranian citizens.

On Jan. 21, 2015 U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that the U.S. “still [has] a credible chance of reaching a deal that is in the best interest of America’s security, as well as the security of our allies” which was the first time that the U.S. had publicly stated that it was in its own national interest to cooperate and work with Iran on some kind of nuclear arrangement. Since then, the U.S. and Iranian diplomats have come to a preliminary agreement (the deal isn’t sealed until the end of June) which was made available to the Ayatollah Khamenei. Unfortunately the Ayatollah’s reaction to the nuclear deal has been less than satisfactory. For example, in a press conference in Tehran the Ayatollah demanded that economic sanctions be lifted as soon as the negotiations’ final papers were signed and that military sites were completely off limits to foreign inspectors and inquiries. These are two sticking points for the U.S. It is important to both President Obama and John Kerry that the U.S. lifts the economic sanctions on Iran gradually so that they are able to ensure that Iran has been “[complying] with its obligations” to reduce its stockpile of uranium so that they cannot enrich it for nuclear weapons. Additionally, most nuclear sites are also military bases, so if no inspectors were allowed in those facilities than there could be no guarantee that Iran was “following through on their commitment to vastly reduce their uranium stockpile.”

The Obama Administration is also facing criticism from the GOP, and their disbelief that Iran will continue to enrich uranium at levels that are in compliance for peaceful purposes. John Boehner has publicly stated that “it would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region.” Members of the GOP are reluctant to allow a deal with Iran to go forward because they are skeptical that Iran will hold up their end of the bargain and enrich uranium at the appropriate levels for peaceful purposes. John Boehner also invited Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, to congress where he expressed concern over the deal with Iran and said in a statement “this is a bad deal — a very bad deal”. John Boehner wanted to invite Netanyahu to Congress to speak in order to show how this nuclear deal would affect Israel, a long standing ally of the U.S. Were Iran to go back on their agreement with the U.S., a nuclear armed Iran would be a large threat in the Middle East weapons and would most likely trigger an arms race in the Middle East. Iran and Israel are known for having an extremely tense relationship, so if Iran were to have nuclear weapons, one can assume that it would push their relationship over the edge. Boehner and the GOP wanted to use Netanyahu’s speech in order to show Obama what could go wrong if the U.S. decided to go through with a nuclear deal with Iran.

In Iran, the Ayatollah claims that he neither supports nor opposes the nuclear negotiations, he did end his speech saying that he “has never been optimistic about negotiations with America” which implies that he may be leaning away from supporting any kind of nuclear deal with the U.S. Although the President of Iran is directly elected by the people of Iran, it is the Ayatollah that has the final say in political matters. If the Ayatollah doesn’t agree with or support a bill, then the bill won’t pass. It will be important to take into consideration what the Ayatollah wants from these nuclear talks in order for the talks to be ultimately successful.

Image by the U.S. Department of State