The cultural dimension of Turkish-Iranian relations and the scope of Turkey's soft power were discussed at a seminar jointly organized by the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) and the Tehran branch of the Yunus Emre Institute over the weekend in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Speaking at the seminar titled, "Power and Cultural Diplomacy in Turkish Foreign Policy," Dr. Bayram Sinkaya from Ankara's Yıldırım Beyazıt University and expert on Iran said that political relations between the two countries is the main determining factor that affects bilateral relations, adding that Turkey and Iran have strong political, economic and cultural ties which are flourishing. He also said that political tensions between the two are causing deterioration in other areas.
Sinkaya explained that Turkey and Iran have an opportunity to improve relations due to the absence of structural problems between them.
"[We] can mention the historic rivalry between Turkey and Iran, but this rivalry is not a historical enmity. The competition manifests itself in various sectors within the two countries and this rivalry has political and ideological dimensions that are not structural," he said.
Dr. Talha Köse from Istanbul Şehir University said in his speech that Turkey's soft power capacity comes from a combination of its history, culture and geography, noting that improving cultural relations has become one of Ankara's top priorities in foreign policy in recent years. "In the last decade, Turkey has sought to diversify its policy priorities regarding security-oriented policies only; notably, the fields of economy, education and culture," Köse said, underlining that the increasing number of foreign missions and foreign policy actors align with this objective.
He pointed out that these efforts are evident in the increased number of foreign policy actors; namely, the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), Turkish Airlines (THY), the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), Red Crescent and the Yunus Emre Institute, among others. However, according to Köse, Turkish foreign policy has become multi-dimensional and increasingly complicated, as the soft power elements are becoming insufficient in solving security-related problems.
Referring to information from a comparative study conducted in Iran, Iraq and Egypt, Köse said that the survey results indicate people in these countries feel close to Turkey despite the fact that the respective political elites remain distant. "According to our research, Turkey's economic success in the last decade and its humanitarian assistance in the region have created a positive image for Turkey but our survey results have also indicated that Turkey's soft power is limited in places where religious and sectarian factors are becoming more important," he said.