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Iran protests put Turkish government in tight spot 

As their Western partners strongly react to the Iranian protests, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his administration remain curiously quiet.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

As protests over the death of Iranian citizen Mahsa Amini, an ethnic Kurd, at the hands of Iran’s notorious morality police reverberate across the globe, the Turkish government has been strikingly silent on the matter — unlike its Western counterparts. 

While the protests were largely covered by Turkey’s independent media outlets, they were mostly downplayed by pro-government media groups. 

Is it possible that the protests have actually escaped the Turkish government's radar?

“[With a] 534-kilometer-long border and four official border gates with [Iran], and with 40 million Turkic origin citizens in the country, it is unrealistic to assume Ankara isn’t watching the events unfolding in Iran with utmost concern,” Iranian-Turkish journalist Savash Porgham told Al-Monitor. 

Then what could be the underlying reasons behind Ankara’s silence? 

According to Vahid Yucesoy, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Montreal, the protests might have caused concerns within the Turkish government over domestic fears ahead of elections expected to be held in June 2023.

“The protests in Iran have made Ankara quite nervous. This nervousness is visible through its silence. One must note that despite periods of collaboration and competition, Islamists in Ankara and Tehran have different geostrategic goals in the region,” he argued to Al-Monitor, pointing out the concerns in the country over what the government’s critics describe as eroding secularism. 

Given the secular segments’ outrage at bans on concerts and festivals, Ankara might also be wary of a potential spillover effect.

Gulriz Sen, assistant professor in political science at Ankara’s TOBB University, concurs. “Turkey’s civil society’s own concerns regarding the fate of secularism in the country and women’s freedom to choose their attire are arguably influential in their strong sense of empathy and identification with the Iranian case,” she told Al-Monitor.

Furthermore, the two key concepts that stand out in the Iranian protests — namely women and Kurdish identity — might well have touched a nerve with the Turkish government at a time when women's rights groups are struggling with legal hurdles that have been widely seen as “politically motivated” and human rights groups are documenting government practices that are widely seen as aiming to suppress the Kurdish identity

The Kurdish slogan “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” (“Woman, Life, Freedom”) made its way from the Iranian streets across the entire world.

Kurds in Turkey have vocally expressed their solidarity with the demonstrators who have refused to leave the streets, defying brutal police crackdowns. Prominent Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas, who remains behind bars, shaved his head to express his support. 

Turkey’s women's rights activists, famous singers and Iranians living in Turkey have also taken to the streets to show their solidarity. Yet one such demonstration in Ankara on Oct. 2 turned violent when police tried to end it by detaining several demonstrators. 

Aside from domestic concerns, another factor that keeps Ankara silent might be its attempt to avoid drawing the ire of Tehran, given the large range of fields of cooperation between the two countries, from trade to the Syrian conflict, in which — despite supporting rival parties — both capitals are partners in the Astana process aiming to find a political settlement to the conflict.

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