Inside the pro-Iran and 'Islamic' worldview of Turkey's foreign minister

At the center of the worldview advanced by Turkey is the foreign minister and his attempts to portray some Islamic countries as “brothers” while sidelining or denigrating other countries.

urkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Ankara, Turkey (photo credit: REUTERS)
urkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Ankara, Turkey
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was all smiles greeting his Iranian counterpart on Monday. He called Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran “my brother” and tweeted lovingly about the hope for increased relations between Ankara and Tehran. He said Zarif's was his first meeting in the “new normal” of the COVID-19 era.
Turkey and Iran are signing a memorandum of understanding on diplomatic and consular premises. Ankara stands against the Trump administration’s “unilateral sanctions on Iran” and the foreign minister said that the pandemic shows why the two countries must cooperate and have solidarity.

Cavusoglu’s comments pour cold water on the theory that some US diplomats and commentators have put forward that see Turkey as a NATO partner that will join |America to work against Iran.
Today, Turkey and Iran are increasingly becoming allies. This alliance is partly about their shared worldviews, which are rooted in political Islam. Turkey’s AK Party has origins in the Muslim Brotherhood, while Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 turned the country into a theocracy. The guardians of Iran’s Islamist revolution, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, held a secret meeting in Turkey in 2014 to coordinate policy against Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two other major Islamic countries in the region that they are hostile to.
At the center of the worldview advanced by Turkey is the foreign minister and his attempts to portray some Islamic countries and people as “brothers” while sidelining or denigrating other countries. For instance, Pakistan gets the “brother” treatment, as do Kosovo, Somalia, Palestinians, Qatar, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Sudan, Oman, Azerbaijan and Serbia. Serbia appears to be the only non-Muslim country whose foreign minister he saw as a “brother.”

WHY IS Turkey hostile to Egypt and the Saudis? Egypt, where al-Azhar University is situated – the center of Sunni Islamic-learning – and Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca, are key parts of the Muslim world, but they are not currently linked to the Brotherhood. This is an important and complex distinction. Suffice it to say that regimes such as Turkey's, or Doha in Qatar and Hamas in Gaza, have a shared worldview that transcends myths about historical competition between the Ottomans and Persians, or between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
That is why Ankara reached out to Sudan before Omar Bashir was overthrown, and sought to lease an island and extend military influence to Egypt. It is also why Turkey is seeking to influence Rached Ghannouchi in Tunisia, whose party is rooted in political Islam. It forms the bases of the alliance with Tripoli and the attempt to hijack the Syrian civil war to make it a more “Islamic” conflict. It is also why Ankara and Tehran speak about the “liberation” of Jerusalem or “Al-Quds” in official rhetoric. It is also part of the basis for Ankara’s role in Malaysia and Pakistan. This is a battle for hearts and minds – and Turkey’s Foreign Ministry is a key element in the battle.
The Ankara regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has several key components to it. At the top is Erdoğan, who has sidelined all opponents over the years. He sought to arrest army generals accused of coup plotting and then turned on the Gulen movement, labelling it “terrorists.” He detained the idiosyncratic Islamic host of a cultish television show and launched a war on the Kurdistan Workers Party.
He also moved from former foreign minister Ahmet Davotoglu’s “zero problems with our neighbors” to a new policy. This policy transcends concepts such as “neo-Ottomanism” or “pan-Turkism.” At the heart of it are Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin, advisor Yasin Aktay, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, chief information strategist Fahrettin Altun, son-in-law and drone designer Selcuk Bayraktar, former adviser Gen. Adnan Tanriverdi – who founded the military contractor SADAT – and Irfan Oszert, newly promoted general and key to the Libyan expedition. The foreign minister is also key to this leadership.

CAVUSOGLU WAS born in Alanya, a pretty resort town in southern Turkey near Antalya, in 1968. Like Zarif in Iran, he studied in countries abroad but picked up none of their tolerance, diversity or secularism. He studied for a PhD at the London School of Economics and apparently also in the US.
His government biography says he is a founding member of the AK Party and was involved deeply in external relations since 2003. He was also a liaison with Europe with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, holding discussions frequently on defense and migration issues. He even negotiated with the EU between 2013 and 2014, before becoming foreign minister in 2018.
Turkey once wanted to be part of the EU, but its stance has shifted in recent years towards hatred of the EU and constant attacks on European counties. Ankara's leadership frequently compares most European countries and Israel to “Nazis.”
Cavusoglu’s long experience in Europe hasn’t made him treat Europe like the “brother” he sees in Tehran. In January, in response to reports that a Greek politician harmed a Turkish flag, he said that those who harm the flag will be kicked into the sea. “Europe’s spoiled and racist children should know their place.”
Other harsh criticism has seen Dutch politicians compared to Nazis.

THE TURKISH foreign minister bashes Europe but often speaks of “brotherhood” with Muslim countries. When he tweets about Palestinian issues, it is in an Islamic context, claiming in February 2020 that “neither Allah nor the Ummah” (God or the Islamic people) will give up on the “selling” of Palestine. This concept of brotherhood and Islamic community is close to his heart and informs his worldview.
Cavusoglu’s worldview appears to embody the current trend in Ankara's foreign policy. This is a trend that is more insular and also pitched towards a concept that sees Turkey astride the Islamic world as its leader on issues such as Jerusalem. Turkey has sat with Qatar and Malaysia and Iran to pitch a kind of Islamic gold trade network that would bypass Western sanctions on countries such as Iran.
Cavusoglu tweets in terminology that is meant to bifurcate the world into his “brothers” and others. For instance, he uses the Turkish terms kardesligi, kardesim and kardeslerimizle which indicated brotherhood. It is sometimes the same terminology used by other members of the government.
On the face of it, calling people “brother” is fine, and Turkey’s leader has spoken about the “blood brotherhood” of fighting in the Korean War when Turkey sent a brigade there in 1950. But more often it is used in an Islamic context, as when Erdoğan met entertainer and convert Cat Stevens. This kardeslik simply isn’t there for other meetings with Europeans, the US or many other countries, and the signal is clear. It also isn’t used for countries Turkey is hostile to, meaning it’s not purely about Islamic countries, but a more political Islamic worldview within that worldview.
The more Ankara seeks to channel this message of Islamic unity on world issues, the more it appears to be gravitating toward Iran – even though the countries are ostensibly on different sides in Syria. For example, Turkey's one-time objections to the role of Shi’ite militias in Iraq have dissipated.
Ankara is currently laser-focused on fighting the PKK in Iraq and Syria, and on using a new role in Libya to gain military bases and an energy foothold.