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Turkey's global strategy: Turkey and Iran

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As the neighbouring state most comparable to Turkey in geographic, demographic and socio-economic size, relations with Iran differ from all other neighbourly relations, as Iran is considered Turkey’s equal. As such, the relationship is also fi lled with historical legacies that have shaped public and elite perceptions. First, there is the legacy stemming from the century-old rivalry of the two former empires (Ottoman and Persian) whose competition was territorial, political, cultural as well as religious. Furthermore, the parallel decline of imperial strength – both in Constantinople and in Tehran - gave rise to a shared struggle against the encroachment of outside powers, mainly Russia and the West. The second legacy derives from the experience as modern nation-states and is rather amicable. It originates in Turkish and Iranian affi nity to modernise in the face of superior enemies, guiding the two countries in their transition to modernity. Notably, Reza Shah’s only visit abroad took him to Turkey in 1934 to inspect his western neighbour’s reforms and social engineering. After World War II, the two states were nominal allies of the Western bloc though the institutional arrangement – the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) – was effectively dormant. Instead, Iran’s natural resource wealth soon enabled the country to eclipse Turkey’s developmental level and Iran’s reassertion of infl uence resurrected Turkish memories of a threat from the East.

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