The removal of nearly all pro-NATO flag officers from the Turkish military in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016 has given a major boost to the Turkey-Iran military relationship.
Classified military notes obtained by Nordic Monitor reveal how Turkey’s former generals declined Iran’s diplomatic initiatives aimed at improving bilateral relations before the abortive coup in July 2016 that many believe was a false flag. Interestingly, the highest-level military talks between Iran and Turkey since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. was the visit of Iranian Chief of General Staff Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri to Turkey on August 15, 2017.
According to the documents, dated May 31, 2016, the Iranian defense attaché in Ankara conveyed a request from Ebrahim Taherianfard, ambassador of Iran to Turkey at the time, to be received by then-Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar; however, the request from the Iranian Embassy was declined by the planning and principles department of the Turkish General Staff. Turkish military members sought the foreign ministry’s view on the situation, the military notes revealed.
The documents indicated that the Iranian Embassy, despite repeated diplomatic démarches, was unable to obtain a positive response from the then-head of the department, Lt. Gen. Salih Ulusoy, since the Turkish ambassador in Tehran had not been received by the chief of the Iranian general staff. Ironically, Lt. Gen. Ulusoy was well aware of the fact that the Turkish ambassador, according to the document, had not sought an appointment with the Iranian military chief in Tehran.
Following the coup attempt, Lt. Gen. Ulusoy was dismissed from his position and arrested on dubious terrorism charges as a result of an unprecedented purge of flag officers from the Turkish military. Nordic Monitor previously reported that only 42 Turkish generals and admirals out of the 325 who were on active duty at the time have managed to retain their rank or receive promotions.
The Turkish commanders were replaced by Islamists and neo-nationalists bent on undermining the NATO military alliance. With new military assignments in NATO positions and at Turkish embassies abroad, pro-Russian and pro-Iranian officers contributed to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policies to pivot Turkey away from the transatlantic alliance and shift its geopolitical direction. It is no surprise that the first Turkish military incursion into Syria in 2017 took place following the coup attempt given the fact that the military was apparently resisting Erdoğan’s war plans in Syria as well as his alliance with Russia and Iran up until the first half of 2016.
Despite President Erdoğan’s ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) generals and the country’s increasing role in Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), run by pro-Iranian figure Hakan Fidan, the Turkish military continued closely monitoring the situation in Iran and the clashes between the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) and the IRGC.
According to a military presentation, dated June 23, 2016, the Turkish armed forces were considering supporting the KDPI in response to threats posed by Iran and the latter’s cooperation with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gorran Movement, the third largest political party in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. However, the generals and admirals pursuing this strategy were dismissed within a month.
The massive purge of pro-NATO elements from military positions of power in the wake of the failed coup was a welcome development from Iran’s perspective.
In August 2017 the then-spokesperson of the Iranian foreign ministry, Bahram Qassemi, stated that the abortive putsch had facilitated the beginning of a détente in bilateral relations between Ankara and Tehran, saying: “Iran’s support for Turkey following the coup attempt brought a new season in bilateral relations. … We conveyed that Iran was ready to meet any requests from Turkey.”
Rapprochement between Turkey and Iran reached its height when Iranian Gen. Bagheri was welcomed by his Turkish counterpart Akar in Ankara in August 2017. The visit of Gen. Bagheri was the first such visit since the 1979 revolution, an event that speaks for itself regarding its meaning for both sides. In addition to Akar, Bagheri met with President Erdoğan and the Turkish defense minister during a three-day program that became a cornerstone of Turkey-Iran military relations.
Two months later, Gen. Akar visited Tehran for talks with Bagheri as regional measures against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq intensified following an independence referendum in September 2017.
Furthermore, Iran’s military chief of staff Gen. Bagheri paid his second visit to Turkey in January 2019 for “unprecedented” talks with Turkey’s leadership reportedly aimed at narrowing differences on the Syria crisis and coordinating policy on Iraq. The Turkish side described the visit as a “milestone,” and it was defined as “unprecedented in the history of bilateral relations” by Iranian officials.
Evidence concerning the coup attempt seemed to confirm the widely circulated allegations that Akar had in fact been working with Turkish intelligence chief Fidan and President Erdoğan to stage a false flag in order to create a pretext for an unprecedented mass purge of military officers.
Some experts claim that Iranian intelligence was informed of these preparations by its loyal asset in Turkey, Fidan. On July 15, 2016 Fidan went to see Akar and spent some three hours at General Staff headquarters. Considering dinner and a private meeting at a graduation ceremony for trainees of the Special Forces Command the previous day, the heads of the two organizations spent almost nine hours together in a 24-hour period.
An investigation, called Tawhid Salam (Tevhid Selam in Turkish), which was launched by Turkish prosecutors in 2011 uncovered a sophisticated espionage network run by the IRGC’s Quds Force in Turkey and exposed the extent and depth of infiltration in Turkish institutions by Iranian elements. The investigation also revealed Erdoğan’s secret ties to IRGC generals and how Fidan’s MIT worked with the Iranian regime.
Erdoğan, who calls Iran his “second home,” has allowed this terror network to act with impunity in NATO alliance territory despite the fact that the spy ring has violated several Turkish penal code articles, from terrorism to espionage.
After the coup attempt, the structure of the Turkish military changed dramatically in parallel with the Turkish intelligence agency, and the massive purge provided fertile ground for pro-Iranian generals and admirals in a NATO army.
Documents drafted by the planning and principles department of the Turkish General Staff:Memo_iran