ALLEGATIONS this week by senior Turkish officials of an "Iranian connection" behind recent political killings in Turkey has provoked a crisis in relations between Ankara and Tehran.
The government of Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, using cautious diplomatic language, has said that Iran is involved in Islamic terrorism in Turkey, but so far has refrained from directly accusing the Iranian government.
Faced with a flat Iranian denial on any involvement in political violence in Turkey, Turkish Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin last weekend handed over to his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Velayati, a file containing information provided by members of a so-called Islamic Action movement in Turkey who were arrested in connection with recent killings. The document was said to contain testimonies indicating that Turkish militants were trained in Iran, details about the location of a camp, and names and telepho ne numbers of accused Iranian and Turkish operatives. A welcome response
The Iranians then agreed to conduct a joint investigation with the Turks on the validity of these allegations - a move that was welcomed in Ankara.
"Iran may categorically deny this information, but there is evidence supporting it," Mr. Demirel told a parliamentary group on Tuesday. "If in fact the state [in Iran] is not involved, who is? Iran has an obligation to cooperate with us to unearth the facts.... Iran has a responsibility in this matter, if she does not want a deterioration in our relations."
In a similar message to Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Demirel urged Iran to investigate the activities said to be conducted inside Iran in support of Turkish militants, and warned that if this is not done "relations between the two countries would be overshadowed" by Iran's noncooperation.
The allegations follow the Jan. 24 murder of a prominent Turkish journalist, Ugur Mumcu, and an abortive assassination attempt on Jack Kamhi, a leading Turkish industrialist and prominent member of Turkey's Jewish community. Later investigation of these terrorist acts led to the discovery of the Islamic Action organization and the arrest of several members. Those arrested have since been linked to other killings.
The crackdown on the Islamic terrorist network was announced by Interior Minister Ismet Sezgin. "In the light of the evidence it is clear that those who committed these murders had connections with Iran," he said. He added that there were strong indications that the pro-Iranian Turkish terrorists had contacts with the Iranian secret service Savama.
Mr. Sezgin's assertions and other statements made by police spokesmen come at a time when anti-Iranian feelings are spreading in Turkey. The death of Mumcu, a prominent investigative journalist who criticized Islamic fundamentalism and defended Ankara's secular system, led to massive demonstrations throughout the country.
Days before the allegations by the authorities on the Iranian connection, the Turkish press carried reports and furious comments about Iran's involvement in trying to "export the Islamic revolution" to this country.
Despite the strong turnout for pro-secular demonstrations, a backlash by pro-fundamentalist Turkish groups is expected.
Neomettin Erbakan, leader of the pro-Islamic Welfare Party, has accused the authorities of lying about the recent killings. In his view, it is the US Central Intelligence Agency, Israel's Mossad agency, and other Western imperialists who are behind the efforts to destablize Turkey. This theme has found support with pro-fundamentalist publications and radical youth.
Such support for Iranian-style politics has prompted Ankara to keep this dispute contained. "We must act on this matter cautiously and cooly," Demirel told his parliamentarians.
Government officials say they do not want to antagonize an important - and difficult - neighbor such as Iran, as much as it does not want to provoke an internal confrontation between secularists and Islamists that would lead to a polarization of the Turkish society. Common interests
Turkish diplomats say that while Turkey and Iran pursue separate foreign policy goals regarding Central Asia and have different ideologies, they share common interests.
Despite the current crisis, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers met their Syrian counterpart in Damascus yesterday to coordinate policy on neighboring Iraq. A previous meeting, hosted by Turkey, was held to discuss Kurdish autonomy in Iraq's northern region, a source of common concern for Iraq's three neighbors.
For now, these common interests will bind Turkey and Iran into a constructive relationship, observers say. The ties explain the Turkish reluctance to blame Iran directly for official or unofficial support for Islamic radicals in Turkey.
Discussing his meeting with the Iranian foreign minister, the Turkish Foreign Minister Cetin said, "I told him that such issues should not be permitted to harm our relations. But I also made it clear that terrorism is an issue of top priority to Turkey."