Understanding Turkey’s Principled Stance on Venezuela

Of all the national leaders coming forward to announce their support for President Nicolas Maduro, the UN recognised Venezuelan head of state, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not only the first but the most robust. While Turkey’s political atmosphere is very different to that of any Latin American nation and while the governing AK Party in Turkey has a generally different ideological foundation to that of the Bolivarian socialism of Nicolas Marudo, in 2016, an attempted coup against the legitimate government and leadership of Turkey exhibited traits which were deceivingly similar to the early stage coup unravelling in Caracas.

It was in July of 2016 that elements of the Gulenist Terror Organisation (FETO) which had illegally infiltrated parts of the Turkish Army, drove tanks onto the streets of Istanbul whilst other major cities including Ankara were the scene of provocations by low-ranking Army officials whose loyalty was not to the Turkish state or constitution but to the radical religious extremist group FETO.

Hours after the coup began, President Erdoğan took to social media that was relayed on CNN and called on patriotic Turks to defend the constitution and take to the streets. Harrowing images of ordinary Turks lying down in front of the path of oncoming tanks operated by terrorists, sent a message to the world that was loud a clear – while FETO are terrorists, “every Turk is born a soldier”. These ordinary civilians turned unarmed soldiers acting in defence of their nation thwarted the coup and helped the lawful authorities to restore the peace.

Subsequent to the coup, the Turkish authorities worked to bring the terrorists to justice and as of 2019, FETO’s operations are based primarily outside of Turkey, as the group’s assets within Turkey have been largely cleansed by the legal authorities.

Whilst many 20th century Turkish coups were largely internal affairs involving disputes between civilian leaders and top ranking army officers, the 2016 FETO coup was different as it was committed by low ranking Army members whose loyalty was not to the Army itself but to an outlawed fundamentalist terror group.

Crucially, those behind the 2016 coup felt that their job would be easy and that most Turks would either support or passively accept the FETO takeover. Those who made such assumptions were proved to be entirely wrong as non-stop pro-government rallies in the days subsequent to the failed coup, showed that not only was the coup a supreme act of lawless terrorism, but that from a strategic point of view, it was also a gross miscalculation.

As the US has long harboured FETO leader Fethullah Gulen, many in Turkey pointed a finger at the Washington for at minimum, enabling the coup and failing to allow FETO’s ringleader to be brought to justice in a Turkish court. Many remain infuriated that to this day, Gulen lives as a free man in the United States. Furthermore, the Obama administration’s reckless failure to wholeheartedly condemn the coup gave further credibility to accusations which pointed to Washington’s hand behind the FETO act of terror.

And thus one comes to Venezuela where this week, the US recognised a man who did not even run in the 2018 Venezuelan Presidential election as the Venezuelan President, after the pretender proclaimed himself President and subsequently administered to himself, the national oath of office. Clearly, those supporting Venezuela’s self-proclaimed leader believe that overthrowing Venezuela’s legitimate government will be even easier than FETO and its international backers thought that it would be to destroy Turkey in 2016.

It is therefore highly likely that it has been the supreme brazenness of the backers of political instability in Venezuela which particularly motivated Turkey’s supreme defence of President Maduro, over and beyond the extremely strong relations currently enjoyed between Ankara and Caracas.

Venezuela is currently expanding trade with Turkey at a rapid pace whilst the bilateral partners are also engaged in an agreement whereby Turkey has agreed to refine Venezuelan gold. This latter agreement arose due to the fact that Caracas has come to see Turkey as a uniquely reliable partner in attempting to establish sound money principles. Beyond this, Venezuela under President Maduro became the first nation in the western hemisphere to join Turkey in outlawing FETO operations, thus demonstrating that the bilateral partnership between Venezuela and Turkey is one based on shared security values in addition to a shared desire for win-win economic relations.

Thus, while many Asian nations have economic incentives in respect of seeking stability in Venezuela, Turkey over and above these universal incentives, also has a clear moral incentive for backing a partner nation that some in Washington think can be easily torn apart. In 2016, a similar gamble was taken in respect of Turkey and those who gambled lost badly. While Turkey is geographically distant from Venezuela, Ankara nevertheless has voiced a clarion call against lawlessness and disorder in Venezuela because Turkey clearly learned these lesson the hard way and wishes its Venezuelan partner not to have to go through what Turkey went through only several years ago.

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