TURKEY HAS THE look of another Iran. It has a similar strategically delicate location on the Soviet Union's southern frontier and a similar politically delicated security tie with the United States. It has, as a modernizing society, a similar vulnerability to its citizens' raised -- and frustrated -- expectations for a better life. It has, as a traditional society, a like place for religious currents and religious clashes -- of the sort that exploded in Maras last month, left 100 dead, and led a reluctant Premier Bulent Ecevit to establish martial law in Ankara and Istanbul and 13 of the country's 67 provinces. Eyes wide with the chaos in Iran find it easy to see the same specter coming Turkey's way.
Misfortune, or more of it, may indeed be coming to Turkey. If so, however, the misfortune will be its own. In critical aspects, Turkey is a very different place from Iran, and this bears directly on the policy open to the United States. The chief difference is, of course, that Turkey is a democracy: not a pure democracy or an American-type democracy, but a country where -- granted, not without lapses -- political power is wielded by civilians accountable to the people and is passed peacefully in elections. This means Turks have the opportunity, denied to Iranians, to express their grievances and to control in some substantial measure the conduct of their rulers. It also means that it is in the accepted American and Western interest to help sustain the Turkish form of government.
It is relevant, too, that Turkey is a member of NATO and that it houses missile-monitoring installations that would be important for verification of Soviet performance under the propective SALT II agreement. The gathering political threat to CIA missile-monitoring facilities in Iran has already clouded prospects of Senate ratification of that agreement. No comparable threat to the facilities in Turkey is visible, but the crisis in Iran does increase the American stake in them.
So it is that key Western countries are now looking closely at Turkey's travails, especially in their economic aspect. As a poor country hit by recession, by the forced return of Turks formerly working in West Germany and by a giant debt, Turkey has sought a quick billion dollars in credits for the current emergency and many more billions for the next five years. The allies have just granted a billion-dollar credit -- for five years. The Turks are showing some anguish both over the shortfall and over the supplicant's role. A period of protracted economic negotiations, bound to raise political hackles on both sides, is in store.
There is one more element: Cyprus, whose northern sector is in its fifth year of Turkish occupation. It would be heedlessly counterproductive for Turkey's Western creditors to demand directly that Ankara moderate its Cyprus policy as a condition of the bailout aid. Yet there is an unavoidable connection. Because the Cyprus problem is unresolved, Turkey cannot have the good relations with Greece that would so greatly facilitate trade, an Aegean Sea settlement and a general settling down. Without good relations with Greece, Turkey cannot follow Greece into the European Economic Community, with the substantial benefits that would bring. Yet a government weakened, as Mr. Ecevit's is, by religious and political strife and economic crisis would have great difficulty making the adjustments needed for a Cyprus settlement. That is, nonetheless, Mr. Ecevit's essential task.