As Turkey works for harmonization with Iran and Russia, an internal struggle has developed between the PM and the Gulenists that may threaten the process. If the leadership of the AKP is to be believed, it’s part of a foreign conspiracy to remove them.
Regarding the conflict in Syria, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) government in Ankara might be on the opposite side of the fence from both Tehran and Moscow, but the depth of Turkish ties with Iran and Russia go beyond this.
Turkey is not only tied to both Iran and Russia through geography and centuries of common history, it also shares the bonds of mutual trade, culture, linguistics, and ethnic composition. Although Turkish policies and political relations with Iran and Russia are subject to fluctuation, the many links tying Turkish society to both cannot be undone, including the economic reality of their ties.
Tehran and Moscow are two of Turkey’s most important trading partners and sources of energy. Aside from Germany, in terms of Turkish exports and imports, the combined volume of Turkish trade with both Iran and Russia outflanks, by way of comparison, any bilateral trade relations Ankara has with other countries.
Realizing the importance of Turkish economic ties to Iran, it is important to note that the unilateral US and European Union sanctions set up against Iran have hurt the Turkish economy. The Turks need Iranian energy in the form of natural gas and oil. When the US government asked Ankara to cut back on Iranian energy imports, it basically expected the Turkish government to knowingly handicap the Turkish economy in order to serve Washington’s agenda.
Even under the US-led sanctions regime directed against Iran as a form of economic manipulation and warfare, Turkish businesses and the AKP government have tried their best to maintain their economic and energy ties with Iran. This has been done both openly and covertly. Turkey has even acted as a covert channel for Iran to evade the US and EU sanctions.
Among other things, the corruption scandal involving the head of the state-owned Halk Bankasi (People’s Bank), or Halkbank for short, that emerged on December 17, 2013, is a reflection of the continuation of business and trade between Turkey and Iran. Sales from Iran were silently facilitated by the Turkish bank through the purchasing of gold that was given to Tehran as payment, instead of a currency, after Tehran was blocked from using the SWIFT international money-transfer system in March 2012. Halkbank maintains that the transactions were legal and that no rules prevented trading precious metals with Iran until July 2013 and that it ceased doing so on June 10, 2013.
An internal power struggle has emerged in Turkey. The Halkbank scandal is really a sub-plot and symptom of this. Not only do the recent graft probes reflect widespread government corruption in Turkey, but it puts the spotlight on an inner tussle within the AKP and, more broadly, within the Turkish elite managing the affairs of the Republic of Turkey.