This past May 29, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and President Abdullah Gül came together to dedicate the building of a new bridge to span the Bosporus. Launched on the anniversary of the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Istanbul, the new bridge was christened after Selim the Grim, the architect of the Ottoman wars against Persia during the 16th century. For observers of Turkey, the namesake certainly seemed suggestive: Selim I is also remembered for smashing the Ottoman Alevis and Shi‘a during the most brutal chapter of the Turkic-Persian wars.
In exalting Turkey’s Ottoman champion against Iran, Turkish leaders may have unwittingly paraphrased contemporary Turkish foreign policy. If nothing else, they called attention to an historical parallel that is increasingly coming into starker relief. Once upon a time, Turkish-Persian rivalry was the defining political contest of the Middle East. Following the retraction of the Mongol armies in the mid-14th century, Ottoman Turks and Safavid Persians—claiming to stand for Sunnis and Shi‘a, respectively—fought incessantly for two centuries over Iraq, the Caucasus and what is today eastern Turkey. It was a contest for geopolitical and economic dominion, for the victor would control the hub of the lucrative global silk trade and production.
Ultimately, these wars cost both empires dearly. They weakened the Ottomans on their western front, where the Turks began to suffer defeat on the battlefield against the Habsburgs. And they drained the coffers of the Safavid dynasty, weakening it internally. So in the end, the Turks and Persians agreed to a political and military truce, entering into the Kasr-? ?irin (Zohab) non-aggression pact of 1639.
The memory of devastating war left such an indelible mark on the collective psyche of both nations that it seemed as though nothing could bring Turks and Iranians into a physical conflict again. Similar to the French and the Germans making peace following World War II, after mauling against each other in debilitating campaigns for a century, Turks and Persians determined never again to fight each other. Turkey’s secularization under Ataturk and Shah Reza Pahlavi’s attempt at secularization in Iran in the 20th century improved ties between the two nations by removing, or at least sharply diminishing, the sectarian leitmotif from their ties. This trend was partly reversed after the 1979 Islamist revolution in Iran, but even as Turkey spearheaded pro-U.S. secular politics, and as Iran morphed into a theocratic anti-American regime, the two sides still managed to avoid direct confrontation.
In more recent times, bilateral ties improved with the rise of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. The Iraq War created tensions between Ankara and Washington, giving Iran the perfect opportunity to ingratiate itself with its hitherto aloof neighbor. And Turkey’s AKP seemed ready to advance ties toward an era of unprecedented warmth. Iran helped Turkey combat the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and Ankara came to Tehran’s aid by vetoing a U.S.-sponsored bill at the UN Security Council targeting Iran’s nuclear project. It seemed that Turkey and Iran were ready to buck their historical baggage and become close regional allies.
Then the so-called Arab Spring changed everything. The Levant’s fluid political geography and the re-emergence of sectarian violence in Syria in the wake of Arab upheavals have coaxed Turkey and Iran into a renewed pattern of competition. If history is any guide, the implications of this nascent competition are likely to be profound. If history is to be a guide, however, we have to know something about it.
ttoman-Persian rivalry was the defining conflict of the Middle East for centuries following the collapse of Pax Mongolica. As two empires situated on the periphery of the Arab world, Iran and the Ottomans were primed for collision. The Ottomans became a regional power in 1453, when Sultan Mehmet II conquered Istanbul, connecting the empire’s domains in Europe and Asia. But soon thereafter, a new power arose to the east. Iran’s Shah Ismail, a Turkic warlord from a clan that had previously practiced mystical Sufi Islam with overtones of Turkmen Alevism, took control of the lands of Iran and established the Safavid dynasty in 1501. In a political masterstroke, Ismail proclaimed Shi‘a Islam as the official religion of his empire, and quickly set about the mass conversion of his subjects (Iran had large Sunni populations at the time).
Shah Ismail was bent on expanding his empire at the expense of rival Sunni principalities. Before clashing with the Ottomans, he defeated the Sunni Uzbek Khanate, and sent the severed head of its leader to the Ottoman Sultan. He then captured Baghdad in 1508 and set about the triumphal restoration of Shi‘a shrines. But he met his match in the Ottoman Sultan Selim I, who earned the moniker “the Grim” for his cruelty against Turkish Alevis, whom he considered a fifth column for the Shi‘a—that is to say, for Iran.
The Ottomans watched the rise of the Safavids with alarm, smoldering at the seeming effectiveness of Ismail’s Shi‘a militancy. And in Selim’s eyes, this danger was compounded because the Turkic communities in Ottoman Anatolia, the Alevis, were adherents of an unorthodox Sufi creed who shared the Shi‘a reverence for Ali, the Prophet Mohamed’s son-in-law. Since these Turkmen Alevi (Kizilbas) also populated the ranks of the Shah’s forces, the risk of Kizilbas penetration into the heartland of the Ottoman Empire seemed imminent.
The rise of the Safavid Empire thus had a revolutionary impact within the Ottoman realm. The Ottomans had hitherto embraced or at least tolerated unorthodox forms of Islam, and imperial acceptance of the Alevis had gained them a foothold in central Turkey, the historic Alevi heartland, and opened a path for their expansion into Europe in tandem with the Ottoman march into the continent. The liberal Bektasi sect (or more specifically, sufi taruq), an urban edition of Alevism, had also appealed to much of the local Christian population on account of its syncretism. This allowed for the de facto passage of many Christians into Islam, and their subsequent accession into Ottoman institutions, including the military.
But Safavid proselytizing among the Alevis distorted the Ottoman perception of them: They went from being a pillar of the empire to a potential fifth column. In 1514, the Ottoman Sultan, Selim I, crushed the armies of Shah Ismail at the Battle of Caldiran in eastern Anatolia. The Ottoman campaign then brutally purged swaths of Anatolia of Alevis and sent their communities fleeing to what is today Iran and Azerbaijan.1 Smashing the Alevis did not resolve the growing sectarian rivalry, however. Indeed, sectarian divisions hardened after Sultan Selim conquered Damascus, Egypt and the Hijaz, thus transporting the mantle of Sunni Islam to Istanbul. In 1517, the Ottoman Empire became the defender of the Sunni faith, facing Safavid Persia with Shi‘i Islam as its official faith.
High diplomacy between Iran and Ottoman Turkey was henceforth conducted as religious polemic. Ottoman terms for peace agreements required symbolic concessions on religious matters from the Persians, and the balance of power was often reflected in the balance of religious invective inserted into treaties. In later centuries, this practice continued. For example, the Treaty of Kurdan, signed in 1746, attests that “the Persian people, having totally abandoned the unseemly innovations introduced in the time of the Safavis and having embraced the religion of the Sunnis, shall mention the Orthodox Caliphs, of blessed memory, with respect and veneration.”
Likewise for Persia, Shi‘a tolerance of Sunni Islam was generally contingent on prevailing political conditions. When Persian forces were advantaged, they sometimes could afford magnanimity toward conquered Sunni lands. But during pitched battles, recalcitrant Sunni communities were offered no quarter. This struggle for power among elites reverberated across both empires, and increasingly shaped the idiom of sectarian difference in the Middle East.
More specifically, by suffusing religion into geopolitical rivalry, as the two empires became protectors of the Sunni and Shi‘a domains, respectively, the Ottomans and Persians together shaped the fabric of the Muslim world of faith—dar al-Islam. A recurring theme in the history of Islamic peoples is the tension between the idealized community of believers and the uglier reality of raison d’état. Ottoman-Persian rivalry exacerbated this tension and changed the way the peoples in these imperial domains thought about their fellow Muslims.
Power politics set in motion animosities that divided hitherto closely integrated cultures. Since the days of the Seljuks, Ottoman Anatolia had been home to a large and influential Persian-literate community. Even Sultan Selim himself dabbled in Persian literature, considered fitting for the Ottoman court and literati. The grand ideology of Islamic unity favored such linguistic and cultural eclecticism. Indeed, the Ottoman Empire made no distinction between Ottoman Sunnis and Iranian Shi‘a in its implementation of the sharia. And even Ottoman secular laws (kanun) placed importance on treating all Muslims equally, regardless of their place of origin.
This is important by dint of the role religion played in organizing the peoples of the Ottoman Empire. The inhabitants of the empire were compartmentalized into units of administration based on religion, called millets. Armenians, Orthodox Christians and Jews, for example, were administered according to their religious community. But Shi‘a (or for that purpose Iranians) residing in the empire had no separate millet; they held the same nominal status as any other Ottoman Muslim. Essentially, the few Shi‘a who had stayed in the Empire following the sectarian cleansing effect of the Ottoman-Safavid wars were now subject to the Sunni communal authorities.
But as Ottoman threat perceptions from Iran worsened, animosity toward unorthodox Muslims intensified. When Ottoman armies marched to face Persian forces in the 1540s, shaykh al-Islam Ebussuud Efendi declaimed Shi‘a and Alevis in Anatolia as heretics who could legally be enslaved. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Sheikh al-Islam Ibn al-Kemal declared that the Persians’ “status is that of apostates, and once conquered . . . their possessions, women and children would be considered spoils; as for their men, they should be killed unless they become Muslims.”
Even after the Ottoman-Safavid non-aggression treaty of 1639, animosities continued. Eventually, the split passed the point of no return. With the demise of the Safavid dynasty in 1736, Iran’s new ruler, Nader Shah, extended an olive branch by offering to collapse Shi‘i Islam within the Sunni framework of jurisprudence. But the Ottomans would have none of it.
The cultural chasm between the Ottomans and Iran widened even further as the empires gradually matriculated into the European state system. Perhaps the final blow to the medieval ideal of Sunni-Shi‘a corporality came from the stroke of a pen belonging to one such European modernizer: In 1823, Ottoman officialdom added Iranians to its Register for Foreigners (Ecnebi Defterleri), a log that recorded incidents in the empire involving foreign persons. With this reform, the Muslim peoples of Iran officially become no different from citizens of any other non-Ottoman state.
he Persian defeat at Cald?ran in 1514 and the treaty of Kasr-? ?irin in 1639 foreclosed Iranian expansion into Anatolia, but that only marked the beginning of a different sort of rivalry between the two leviathan states. As the era of pitched battles dimmed, the theater of conflict shifted to the frontier zones where both sides maneuvered for political and cultural advantage. The mountainous Kurdish tribal areas and the cities of modern-day Iraq were foremost among these contested areas.
Selim’s son, Suleyman I, The Magnificent, captured Basra and Baghdad for the Ottomans, and during much of the 16th century the Porte controlled the major centers of Shi‘i Islam in the Arab world: Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala and Kazimiye. But Iran was not prepared to simply cede these provinces to its Ottoman foe, and it had ample soft power to employ in its cause. Iran was the source of a constant flow of merchants, pilgrims and even corpses transported across the border for burial in the consecrated cemeteries of Iraq’s Shi‘a holy places. This traffic, as well as a large semi-assimilated Persian émigré population, cemented the bonds between Persian and Arab Shi‘a. Neither did Persian designs on Iraq end; Persia besieged Baghdad in 1733 and occupied Basra between 1775 and 1821.
European mediation, and a grudging mutual respect for the military balance on both sides, eventually limited the feasibility of open hostilities. In the end, advantage was best gained by more subtle means. And so there emerged a new sort of conflict, a war of propaganda, persuasion and espionage that laid the antecedents of the shrouded conflicts being waged in Iraq today. Persia poured huge sums of money into restoring and improving the Shi‘a holy sites in Iraq, while semi-official representatives of the Persian state funneled alms to the needy in Iraqi cities. This piqued Ottoman anxieties, as Iranian religious influence and social power undermined Ottoman authority. At various times, Ottoman diplomats and foreign travelers remarked that Iran seemed to govern these zones, not the Ottoman Turks.
Obsessively preoccupied with Persian machinations, the Ottomans kept a close eye on Iranian activities, even down to details as minute as the gift of a ceremonial sword to a tribal leader in Mosul. The stakes only increased in the late 19th century as foreign powers encroached on the empire from all sides, and the Sultan began to lean heavily on notions of Muslim solidarity to shore up his shaky control of the expansive Ottoman domains. With the Ottomans in dire straits, a competing religious authority embodied by the Shi‘i religious establishment in Iran was seen as a threat.
Sultan Abdulhamid went on the offensive by employing the Persian dissident Jamal al Din al-Afghani to persuade Shi‘a clergy in Iran that the Sultan in Istanbul was the legitimate Caliph, requiring obeisance from Muslims worldwide. But the Ottomans had plenty of vulnerabilities that Iran could exploit in return. Shah Nasser al-Din decided to retaliate by supporting Armenian nationalist groups that had begun agitating against the Ottomans in eastern Anatolia. As these intrigues suggest, Turkish-Iranian proxy conflict is a tradition that long predates the modern states of both Turkey and Iran.
The Ottomans had a keen appreciation for the geostrategic significance of these shrouded wars. Ali Riza Bey, an Ottoman diplomat, offered his own prospectus of Turkish-Iranian rivalry at the turn of the century. By Riza’s account, Shi‘i Islam constituted a strategic threat that had blocked Ottoman power from extending eastward toward India and China. Even worse, it threatened to subvert Iraq and wrench yet another territory from Ottoman control. But Riza Bey did not call upon the Sultan to ready his battalions against the Persian threat. More subtle methods are required, he suggested. Riza Bey recommended that the Porte dispatch scholars to Iraq to educate the public and persuade them of Sunni Ottoman superiority. With the right kind of propaganda, “his Imperial Majesty will accomplish more by education than his illustrious ancestor Selim I did by the sword.”
These agents of the Sultan also proved to be valuable intelligence assets, reporting on Iranian activities in the frontier zones. One such report to the Sultan claimed that Iran was paying a group of men to stir up the masses against Sunni authority by chanting verses day and night on behalf of “the evil-doing Shah.”
or all the parallels between imperial competition and today’s quickly emerging Turkish-Iranian rivalry, historical determinism is to be resolutely avoided. Geography and religion have not predestined Turkey and Iran for interminable rivalry. Indeed, Turkey and Iran have enjoyed periods of placid, if distant, relations. As Akin Ünver recently observed, competition is dimmed when the imperial instinct is curbed on the part of both sides.2 During the interwar period, for instance, Turkey and Iran were ruled by republican nation-state builders. The governments of Turkey’s Mustafa Kemal and Iran’s Reza Shah replaced imperial visions with ambitious projects to engineer nation-states fashioned after the countries of Western Europe. These nation-state builders rejected empire as a mode of governance, and thus smothered the root cause of imperial competition.
The advent of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 at first seemed to present an ideological threat to Turkey’s Kemalist secular state. And Iran’s occasional exploitation of Turkey’s Kurdish problem did roil Ankara’s leaders. But Turkey’s Kemalist elite had no appetite for geopolitical intrigue in the Fertile Crescent, and so the main theater for Turkish-Iranian rivalry remained inert; Saddam Hussein balanced Iran, while Turkey stood on the periphery.
Rather than strain ties, the AKP’s rise to power in 2002 seemed to herald a new era of warmth in relations with Iran. Shared opposition to the U.S. agenda in the Middle East and cooperation against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) laid the foundations for a working relationship. Moreover, the AKP managed to slant political Islam as a shared value rather than cause for sectarian dissension. But the tectonic political shifts in the region have now brought these two post-imperial states back into a pattern of conflict.
Fueled by a regional rise in sectarianism, a neo-imperial impulse is in evidence in both Tehran and Ankara. This new context makes it profoundly more difficult for the pair to resolutely stick to their previous modus vivendi. The drivers of this dynamic are threefold: First, today both Ankara and Iran have governments that subscribe to neo-imperialist worldviews. Second, with the end of the Ba‘ath regime in Iraq and the advent of the “Arab Spring”, the Fertile Crescent (comprising three mixed sectarian weak states, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon) has grown more susceptible to the neo-imperial ambitions of these periphery powers. In the pre-modern era, Persians and Turks fought to fill the political vacuum after the implosion of Pax Mongolica. Today, they are competing once again to fill in the political vacuum in the three weak Arab states of the Fertile Crescent. That vacuum will only grow with the prospective power deflation of the United States, for more than half a century the informal external hegemon in the region.
There are ample opportunities for both Turks and Persians to enter the fray. With power being contested in the wake of several government collapses, local actors have recognized that foreign backers can give them an edge on the competition. After Saddam’s ouster in Iraq, for example, Shi‘a political groups with previously limited contact with Iran put a premium on ingratiating themselves with Tehran, lest its largesse benefit a competitor. Similarly, Sunni Arabs have allied with the Sunni Kurds (whom they once loathed), and together, these groups have looked to Sunni Turkey for protection. Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, is currently under Turkish protection after fleeing Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s Iraq. And Iraqi Kurdistan’s Prime Minister, Necirvan Barzani, is on the record saying, “We see Turkey as more than just a neighbor. For us, Turkey is a strategic partner.”
As these examples suggest, sectarian considerations are increasingly coming to define regional cleavages, with Turkey and Iran embodying opposing poles. Ankara and Tehran have openly backed opposing forces in the Syrian civil war. Turkey’s decision to confront the Assad regime did not necessarily stem from sectarian sentiment, but it has been widely interpreted as such in the region. The coalition supporting Assad consists of Iran, Iraq and Lebanese Shi‘a, as well as the Syria’s own Alawis (also known as Alawites and not to be confused with Turkish Alevis). In fact, an alignment of revolutionary Shi‘i currents and the Syrian Alawis has been in formation since the 1970s, as evidenced by Ayatollah Hasan Mahdi al-Shirazi and Musa Al-Sadr’s issuance of fatwas ruling that Alawis are members of the Shi‘i sect.
Turkey’s Syria policy did not start with a sectarian leitmotif. However, while Ankara is now challenged in Syria by an axis of Shi‘a powers, composed of Iran, Hizballah and that country’s Alawis, this perception now colors Turkey’s Syria policy with a sectarian hue. Standing resolutely against this Shi‘a axis, Ankara is increasingly seen as a Sunni power that has joined Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni rebels in Syria. Iran has acknowledged the adversarial dynamic playing out there. Iran’s Major General Hassan Firouzabadi blamed Turkey for “the bloodshed in Syria”, and threatened that if Turkey “continues down this path, once Syria goes, Turkey and the rest of these countries are next.”
Similarly, Turkey backs the Sunni Arabs and Kurds in Iraq and sees Shi‘a Prime Minister Maliki as an “Iranian and Shi‘a puppet.” Turkey has answered Iran’s challenge by building influence in the northern areas of both Iraq and Syria. This signals the rise of a yet-undeclared Turkish policy in the Middle East: Anticipating the decentralization of post-Assad Syria, and hoping to take advantage of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish north, Turkey is carving out a cordon sanitaire across the northern Fertile Crescent, building influence among the Kurdish population as well as in large commercial centers such as Aleppo and Mosul, cities that Turkish policymakers recall in their historical mind’s eye as frontier lands of the Ottoman Empire. Likewise, Iran’s influence is palpable in its former haunts populated primarily by Shi‘a across central and southern Iraq, as well as southern Lebanon and among the Syrian Alawis.
This new constellation makes for a far more contentious bilateral relationship. Generally, policy on the PKK tends to be the clearest indicator of a neighbor’s sentiments toward Turkey. For decades, when Turkey’s neighbors have become disgruntled they have turned to supporting the PKK as a way to twist the knife in Turkey’s soft underbelly—its Kurdish problem. Therefore, it is no surprise that Tehran watched with dismay as Turkey launched a peace process in early 2013 that has brought a ceasefire with the armed PKK. Worse than being deprived of a place to stick the knife, Tehran worries that if Turkey mends its internal fractures it will emerge as a more assertive and capable regional power. Such a consolidation could even mean exporting Turkey’s Kurdish militancy problem to Iran, where Kurds have been relatively quiet since 2011. According to media reports, Tehran is working vigorously to muddy such a victory for Turkey. In April, Milliyet reported that top Iranian intelligence officers had traveled to northern Iraq to persuade the PKK to scuttle its ceasefire arrangement with Turkey. In return, Tehran was reportedly prepared to offer the Kurdish militants heavy weapons for use against Turkey. Turkey’s response has been blunt: Ankara has decided to make peace with the PKK in order to disarm this group, and prevent it from turning into an Iranian proxy in Turkey and also Syria, where the PKK wields influence.
Not long ago, Turkey’s religious conservatives and nationalist Turks thought they had much in common with Iran, and held generally warm attitudes toward their neighbor. But this is quickly changing in the current geopolitical environment. According to BBC World Service polling, favorable views of Iran have slid 19 points since 2011. A mere 17 percent of Turks now view Iran favorably. These tensions are reflected in popular culture. After all, the currently fashionable nostalgia for Turkey’s Ottoman past lends itself easily to anti-Iranian sentiment. “The Ottoman Empire’s Deep State” (Osmanli’da Derin Devlet), a newly released soap opera broadcast on Samanyolu TV, a popular Turkish network, luridly portrays Persian attempts to undermine the Ottoman Empire, complete with thinly veiled allusions to contemporary politics. A columnist working for the network commented in a recent op-ed that “this series has shown that many of the events we are experiencing today are actually copies of historical events. Names and places may change, but the essential conflict is always the same.”3
he reemergence of this leitmotif, as illustrated in the naming of the third bridge in Istanbul after Sultan Selim, has notable ramifications for Turkey’s domestic politics. Around half a million Arabic-speaking Alawis live in Turkey, mostly in Hatay province, bordering Syria. Many of these Alawis feel kinship toward the Assad regime and empathize with the Syrian Alawis. Alawis in Hatay are staunchly secular and therefore already at odds with the conservative and occasionally Islamist bent of the ruling AKP. Most of them support the country’s main opposition faction, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). After Ankara began providing safe haven to Syrian (Sunni) opposition groups and armed rebels in fall 2011, Hatay Alawis grew even more critical of AKP policies and have formed a disproportionately large presence in anti-AKP rallies, including a March 2013 demonstration that drew 2,000 people and a late-2012 protest attended by some 8,000.
Some Hatay Alawis see the Syrian Sunnis who have fled to their province not as refugees, but as fighters who have killed or endangered their extended families in Syria. Others depict them as jihadis who threaten Alawis on both sides of the border. One Hatay resident recently told of a Syrian who asked a Hatay shopkeeper if he was Alawi. The shopkeeper nodded, only to be berated by the Syrian refugee, who threatened that Turkish Alawis would meet the same fate as Syrian Alawis—in short, that their turn would come. Security forces had to intervene to break up the ensuing fight.
Ankara has taken steps to alleviate these grievances. Since September, it has steered away from settling large numbers of Syrian Sunni refugees in Hatay, moving many of them to interior provinces. Yet Ankara still has cause for concern, since wider sectarian conflict in Syria would likely spur a larger refugee flow into the province, and stoke local Sunni-Alawi tensions.
Meanwhile, Turkish Alevis, who comprise about 15 percent of the country’s population, could complicate matters further. Although they are not related to the nearly eponymous Alawis, they too are staunchly secular. And like the Alawis, they oppose the AKP’s Syria policy and are overwhelmingly supportive of the CHP. A recent poll by CHP parliamentarian Sabahat Akkiraz indicated that 83 percent of Alevis and Alawis supported the CHP in the 2011 elections. If Hatay Alawis rally more forcefully against the government’s Syria policy, Alevis will almost certainly follow.
Attitudes in the wider Arab world now exhibit some of the same cleavages. Sunni leaders in Iraq excoriate Prime Minister Maliki for being Iran’s puppet, and have forged close ties with Turkey. Meanwhile, Shi‘a groups are beginning to suspect that Turkey harbors sectarian motivations. In Lebanon, a Shi‘a clan kidnapped a group of Turkish businessmen last autumn in retaliation for Free Syrian Army kidnappings of their kin in Syria. And in Iraq, Basra has seen flag-burning demonstrations against Turkey as well as threats against Turkish businessmen. As these episodes suggest, Turkey and Iran are coming to embody the sectarian polarization of the Levant. Turkish-Iranian rivalry is shaping the Middle East, once again.
he Arab peoples of the Levant and Fertile Crescent were ruled by foreign dynasties from the 13th century until the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Even thereafter, colonial powers and brutal dictators continued to stand in the way of genuine self-governance. For some, the throngs in Tunisia and Cairo in 2011 seemed to herald an end to this long epoch. The upheaval held promise as an historic moment for the Arab peoples—a genuine opportunity to take the reins in forging their own destiny. To an extent, this remains true. But the “Arab Spring” has not rendered null the political forces that have shaped the Middle East for centuries. And the reawakening of Turkish-Iranian and Sunni- Shi‘a rivalry in the Fertile Crescent is prominent among the exogenous factors that will shape the political landscape of the Arab world in the coming years.1Some Alevis, however, fled to the central and northern Anatolian highlands, where they remained until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Ottoman modernization and Kemalist secularization, respectively, facilitated their return to the mainstream.
2See H. Akin Ünver, “How Turkey’s Islamists Fell out of Love with Iran”, Middle East Policy (Winter 2012).
3Erhal Topal, “?syan kültürü ve Osmanl?’da Derin Devlet”, Samanyolu Haber, April 23, 2013.