Kurdish Question and Its Impact on Iran-Turkey Relations

Document Type : Original Article


1 Full Professor of International Relations, Tehran University, Tehran, Iran

2 Ph.D Student of Regional Studies, Tehran University, Tehran, Iran

3 Ph.D Student of Political Geography, Tehran University, Tehran, Iran


Kurds are one of the ethnic groups in the Middle East and almost 35 million Kurds inhabit in the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. They are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. Kurdish question has involved some countries in the Middle East and their foreign policy, including Turkey, Syria and Iraq and to a lesser extent, Iran. During the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were displaced and then under Young Turks, the Kurdish people were displaced into small groups in an attempt to eradicate Kurdish identity. After First World War and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the victor countries made provision for a Kurdish state in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres.
In this article by descriptive - analytic method, Kurdish question in region during 1991 to 2013 is studied and its impacts on relations of Iran and Turkey are analyzed. This study also discusses the impact of Iran's Islamic revolution, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and the effects of these developments on its relations with Turkey and point out the two countries' geopolitical rivalries in the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Caspian countries and the Central Asia and analyze Turkish-Iranian relations in this period (1991 and 2013), from a geopolitical and economic point of views. In general, we can say although Kurdish issue has been always an important element between Iran and Turkey considerations and interests, but it seems cannot have decisive effects on the geopolitical and geostrategic policies of two countries.
Today, Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey and Kurdish issue in Turkey has remained unresolved. The Kurdish–Turkish conflict is an armed conflict between the Republic of Turkey government and the Kurdish groups, and The Kurds’ issue in Turkey represents the most serious ethnic problem in contemporary Turkey; as in 2015, Turkey has renewed its campaign against Kurdish militants. This issue has had the obvious effects on the both domestic and regional scene and also on neighbors' interests, including Iran-Turkey relations. Since 1990s, geostrategic and geopolitical considerations of Iran and Turkey have been connected to their economic requirements. These make two countries pay more attention to geopolitical realities in domestic and regional levels. Iran and Turkey also have very close trade and economic ties. Turkish-Iranian relations are important to both countries, as bilateral economic relations between Turkey and Iran have grown at a rapid pace during the past decade. Since 2000, trade between Turkey and Iran has increased tenfold, from $1 billion in 2000 to $10 billion in 2008 and both economies now depend heavily on these relations, for example in 2013, the Iran-Turkey bilateral trade volume was $14.6 billion. According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, over the last decade Turkey has been the second country, after China, in terms of increase in natural gas and electricity demand. Between 2002 and 2013, direct investments of the Iranians in Turkey amounted to $101 million”. In 2014, an estimated 174 Turkish companies invested more than $1.3 billion in Iran. As a result, both economies have become deeply dependent on these economic relations. 
Although Turkish foreign policy is constrained by the unresolved Kurdish issue, but none of the two countries have threatened authority and also political regime of each other by using Kurdish issue. It is possible that two countries rivalries in Iraqi Kurdistan and their interest to influence in these spaces, occupation of some regions in Syria by Kurdish groups and also ISIS invasion to Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) may take their relations to serious tension. In recent years, with the emergence of Syria crisis, Kurds demands for autonomy and independence are the strategic elements affecting Iran-Turkey Economic Relations. Kurdish issue and Kurdish nationalism especially in Iraqi Kurdistan can make divergence in Iran –Turkey relations. Tensions between Turkey and Islamic Republic have increased in the 1980s and 1990s because Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist group has used the Turkish-Iran border region to launch attacks into Turkey. 
Turkish-Iranian relations have gotten complicated by regional geopolitical competition. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran and Turkey have competed for gaining political and ideological influence in the Muslim Caucasus and Central Asia states (includes Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan). A majority of these Muslim states have shared ideological, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic affinities with the Turks but are geographically neighbored with Iran. In the other words, while Turkey had ethnic ties with a majority of these new countries, Iran had geographical proximity as its advantage and served as the most direct route for these states to transport goods to the Persian Gulf.


Volume 12, Issue 43
September 2017
Pages 1-27
  • Receive Date: 29 November 2015
  • Revise Date: 06 January 2016
  • Accept Date: 18 February 2016
  • First Publish Date: 22 September 2016