ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey on Saturday summoned the Iranian ambassador to Ankara over Iran’s “aggressive” reaction to the Turkish president’s recitation of a poem on a visit to Azerbaijan, which Tehran deemed to support a secession of Azeri ethnic parts of Iran.
The diplomatic spat between neighbors Iran and Turkey began earlier this week when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who strongly backs Azerbaijan, read parts of a poem during a parade in the Caucasian country’s capital of Baku. The verses that Erdogan read included lines about how a border tore apart ancient Azeri, or Azerbaijani, lands “by force.”
In a statement Saturday, Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said Iranians had distorted the meaning of the poem “to fuel senseless tensions.”
The Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers spoke by telephone later on Saturday. A Turkish foreign ministry official said Mevlut Cavusoglu told his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, that public statements coming out of Tehran aimed at the Turkish leader were “baseless” and unacceptable, when other channels of communication were available between the two governments.
In the phone call, Cavusoglu also gave an assurance that Erdogan fully respects Iran’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to Iran’s state-run news agency.
IRNA added that the Turkish diplomat explained his president had not been aware of the sensitivities surrounding the lines he recited in Baku.
Altun said the Iranian ambassador to Ankara was summoned late Friday to the foreign ministry. It came after Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador to Tehran for an explanation over Erdogan’s “meddlesome and unacceptable” remarks in Baku.
Altun said the poem “passionately reflects the emotional experience of an aggrieved people due to Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani lands. It does not include any references to Iran.”
Iran’s three northwestern provinces — West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan and Ardabil — have a predominantly ethnic Azeri population that speaks a Turkic language.
Erdogan visited Baku and attended a parade to celebrate a recent cease-fire agreement that allowed Azerbaijan to reclaim control over broad swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding lands in a conflict with Armenia.
“It must not be forgotten that Turkey stood in solidarity with the Iranian state and people, despite the risk of having to endure international pressures, at difficult times for Iran,” Altun said in his statement.
Tehran and Ankara have maintained mostly cordial relations, despite fighting on opposite sides of regional conflicts like the Syrian war, and severe U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif underscored the significance of friendly relations between the two neighbors, in his phone call with his Turkish counterpart Saturday.
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