Online Soleimani memorial interrupted by anti-Iran chants as Eurasianists praise his loss

(This article has been updated to reflect that the interrupted Zoom event was hosted by Iran's embassy in Turkey, not WAYU)

An online memorial hosted by Iran's embassy in Turkey marking the first death anniversary of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general killed by a U.S. drone strike last year, was interrupted by Turkish social media users lambasting him as a murderer. 

As the discussion continued, the Zoom event was inundated with chants from Turkish users sharing the same username “murderer Soleimani” chanting “murderer Iran”. The embassy hosts were forced to halt the event because of the persistent interruption of the anti-Iran chanters. This open rejection of Soleimani's legacy by some in Turkey speaks to his mixed legacy in the country; to some a war criminal aligned with Ankara's enemies, but to others a symbol of resistance against them. 

 

 

Occurring around the same time as the embassy's memorial, another event was organised by the World Anti-Imperialist Youth Union (WAYU) online to commemorate the fallen Iranian commander. In attendance was Tehran University Professor Dr. Foad Izadi, who emphasised that Soleimani’s death served to unite Iran more than weakening it. 

At one point in his talk, Izadi claimed that “imperialism today tries to create a conflict between Turkey and Iran.” 

”If Turkey continues to act bravely,’’ Izadi said, ”it will face embargoes but solidarity between anti-imperialist countries will reduce the impact of those embargoes.’’

Turkey and Iran are historic rivals, whose relationship today is defined as much by competition as it is by cooperation. The countries work together in Syria and against Kurdish militants in their neighbourhood, and have at times expressed diplomatic support for one another.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decried United States sanctions in Iran in 2018 after the administration of Donald Trump withdrew waivers for Iranian oil imports. Likewise, Iran condemned the U.S for sanctioning Turkey in December for its purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia. 

But it is not always an amicable relationship between the two. Early last month, Iran was outraged when Erdoğan recited a poem while attending a victory parade in Baku that Tehran interpreted as encouraging separatism among Iranians of Turkic-descent. Protests outside the Turkish consulate in Turkic-majority Tabriz followed Erdoğan’s remarks and Iranian politicians compared him to the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Soleimani in many ways embodied the paradoxes of Turkey’s relationship with Iran. The general himself was said to admire former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and saw himself as following in his foreign policy footsteps. He was also according to leaked Iranian intelligence files a fan of Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.

After his death outside Baghdad last year, Turkey called for calm for fears that tensions would escalate into a wider conflict between the United States and Iran along its borders. This somewhat muted response differed significantly from Ankara’s later condemnation that followed Israel’s assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November. 

Turkish commentators close to Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were critical of those expressing sympathy for Soleimani, who they considered a war criminal and an enabler of Turkey’s enemies like Bashar Assad in Syria and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). After a call was reported by the Iranian embassy in Ankara that claimed Erdogan called Soleimani a martyr, AKP officials quickly refuted the statement as inaccurate. 

Soleimani and Iran however both maintain sympathy within Turkey from the Eurasianist bloc that is suspicious of the West, especially the United States. 

The memorial’s host group WAYU was founded as a youth organisation in Turkey in 2014 and maintains a level of rhetorical support for Iran. Its current General Secretary is Isikgun Akfirat, who also leads a nationalist group called the Youth Union of Turkey (TGB). 

On the TGB’s Twitter account, there were several posts on the day of the Zoom call that were supportive of the Iranian general and Turkish relations with Iran. One read “Down with USA! Damn Israel! Hooray Turkey-Iran friendship!” 

 

Akfirat, the TGB General Secretary, tweeted praise of Soleimani as the “martyr of all nations that resist imperialism” and that accused the U.S of targeting Turkey as well. 

“The treacherous bullet targeting him came out of the barrel pointed at us,” Akfirat wrote on Twitter. “His blood will not stay on the ground. We will give the answer by expelling the USA from our region.” 

 

Comments like these were reflected by other Eurasianists speaking out ahead of the anniversary of Soleimani’s death. Doğu Perinçek , the head of the nationalist Vatan Party, echoed several of the talking points in the WAYU memorial in an interview with the pro-regime Tehran Times. 

Perinçek accused the U.S of trying to divide Turkey and Iran through “psychological warfare” by pushing an idea that Turkey is looking to reconcile with the U.S and Israel, ignoring statements from even Erdogan himself that suggest Ankara is looking to repair those relations. 

On the day of the WAYU event, Perinçek appeared on CNN Turk and repeated his belief that the U.S was viewed Turkey as an enemy like Iran and that it was trying to provoke the two into becoming foes. He praised Soleimani as a fallen ally in a wider struggle between Turkey and Iran on one side and the U.S and Israel on the other. 

“Qassem Soleimani and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh are also our martyrs. We remember them with respect, the martyrs of all humanity against U.S imperialism and Israeli Zionism,” Perinçek said on the network.