Iranian spy scandal sparks outrage in Turkey
Following the exposure of an alleged Iranian spy network in eastern Turkey late last month, Ankara is turning its attention to Iran amid accusations that it is supporting the PKK.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 11/09/12
After a nearly year-long investigation into an alleged Iranian spy ring in Turkey, seven people were charged last week (September 4th) with "providing information related to state security and establishing an [illegal] organisation."
During his October 21, 2011 visit to Ankara, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Kurdish militancy is a common problem for Turkey and Iran and that co-operation between the two countries should increase. [Reuters]
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) gestures as he speaks with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L) during an official meeting in Tehran January 5, 2012. [Reuters]
A helicopter flies in Hakkari province, which has been the centre of fighting between the PKK and Turkish security forces over the past two months. [Reuters]
The charges against five Turkish citizens and two Iranian nationals followed a raid on the suspects' residences and workplaces on August 29th, in which videos and pictures of border security, documents, correspondence with Iranian intelligence and weapons were found, according to the investigation materials.
Then surveillance videos from the Iranian intelligence ring were leaked to the media last week, sparking outrage over covert Iranian activities targeting Turkey. In the footage, an unidentified Iranian agent is seen talking to two female PKK militants, collecting information on police and military posts, as well as other government bodies.
Tehran denied any connections to the arrested, while officials in Ankara revealed more evidence showing that Iran is providing support to the PKK.
"Our Iranian brothers need to understand that terrorism has no religion, language or race; there is no and should not be an understanding such as my or your terrorist," Murat Yildirim, a ruling AKP deputy who led the Turkish parliament's delegation to Iran in January, told SES Türkiye.
"If Iran is using the PKK against Turkey, this can never be accepted. We will continue to fight against terrorism until the end. No one can benefit by supporting the PKK," Yildirim said.
The accusation that Iran is supporting the PKK comes as fighting between Turkish security forces and the PKK in Semdinli on the border of Iran and Iraq has intensified over the past two months.
According to the confessions of several PKK militants collected by Turkish authorities, Iran is allowing the PKK to use back-bases on the Iranian side of the border, Turkish media reported. The bases provide PKK militants with greater maneuverability and a place to rest, regroup and resupply.
In the 1990s, the Turkish government regularly accused Iran of supporting the PKK, and Iranian support to the PKK ceased after 1999. Economic and political relations warmed based on common concerns over Kurdish nationalism, particularly following the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.
In March 2011, the Turkish parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism, Organised Crime and Drug Trafficking Co-operation agreement with Iran. But with the latest spy scandal, many Turkish authorities are starting to question the sincerity of Iranian commitments as it appears Iranian contacts with the PKK have existed for well over a year.
Ozcan Yeniceri, a deputy from the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), told SES Türkiye Iranian intelligence operatives working inside Turkey is "nothing new" and must have been well-known to the authorities.
"The [leaked] videos of the spies might have been taken earlier and were in the hands of intelligence. However, the situation has changed with events in Semdinli," Yeniceri told SES Türkiye.
Aytekin Geleri, a professor at the National Police Academy, told SES Türkiye that intensified fighting between security forces and the PKK near the Iranian border in Semdinli over the last month would severely damage relations between Ankara and Tehran.
Geleri said several confessions received from PKK militants reaffirm claims the PKK is using camps based in Iran, adding that Turkey has no doubt that the Iranian agents were gathering the material to share with the PKK.
With the mood in Turkey highly suspicious of Iran, relations are heading toward "the beginning of rivalry rather than constructive competition," said Tayyar Ari, the head of the international relations department at Uludag University, told SES Türkiye.
"The problem with Iranian spy-rings is timing," he said. "That makes many in Turkey question Tehran."