Neighboring Iran Warily Watches Turkey’s Attempted Coup

As Istanbul and Ankara descended into chaos with an ongoing military coup in Turkey on Friday night, Izmir, the country’s third most populous city, was relatively calm. As news of the coup started spreading detachments of heavily armed police showed up at Izmir’s international airport, and while some flights still managed to take off, many were cancelled.

On the streets of Izmir supporters of both sides were driving and honking their car horns. Coup supporters waved the red national flag of Turkey while supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waved his AKP party’s blue flag. In some squares small crowds had gathered and were shouting slogans, and occasionally heated arguments would arise between the supporters of the opposing camps.

“Erdogan was crazy,—I’m happy he is gone!” a middle aged man shouted from his car. “The Army was right to take over.” Others disagreed, a young man shouting back at him. “I hate Erdogan, but he was democratically elected. Our democracy is more valuable.” Some mosques were broadcasting the Islamic call to prayers at 1:30 in the morning in an effort to get Erdogan’s supporters onto the streets.

In the Izmir airport many of the passengers waiting to find out whether their flights would go ahead were tourists from neighboring Iran, and reports that Tehran had mobilized its air force only increased their anxiety. “We had spent a great week vacationing in Turkey, now I just want to get my family home,” said Mehdi, whose 5 a.m. flight to the eastern Iranian city of Mashad had been cancelled. As he tried to find seats on other flights still scheduled to leave for Tehran his 5-year-old daughter was crying and begging him to return to the hotel “where it will be safe.”

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The government in Iran was taking the coup reports seriously, as an immediate session of the Supreme National Security Council had been called by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “Iran has mobilized the necessary military and intelligence forces,” said Iran’s intelligence minister, Mahmoud Alavi on state TV. “We are in complete control of our borders with Turkey.”

Iranian media were reporting that army units had been ordered to the Iran-Turkey border and the official news agency IRNA reported that all border crossings with Turkey have been closed and all flights to Turkey cancelled till further notice.

Iran has been locked in a regional struggle with Turkey over the civil war in Syria. Iran supports Syrian President Bashar Assad government, while Erdogan supporting the rebels attempting to bring him down. But while a change in the policy of Ankara toward Assad might be welcomed in Tehran, instability in Turkey, a major trading partner for Iran, is also extremely undesirable.

As the commotion and noise died down on the streets of Izmir, many capitals around the world were following the events in Turkey with concern—maybe none so much as Tehran. “We are carefully following the events in Turkey,” said Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, “We are also very worried about these events,” IRNA reported.