The fight against the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which carried out the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey that killed 249 people, is at the top of Ankara's agenda abroad. Turkish Ambassador to Chile Naciye Kaya stressed in an exclusive interview with Daily Sabah that Turkey's effective struggle against FETÖ in Chile has caused the group's members to lose strength and influence in the country.
"It is known that FETÖ has been active in Chile since 2005 and, like in many other countries, the group has established a foundation and tried to earn a place in the Chilean society under the guise of being a humanitarian aid organization carrying out its activities," Kaya said, adding that such efforts influenced some of the Turkish businessmen operating in the country.
Daily Sabah reporter Yunus Paksoy with Ambassador Naciye Kaya (R) in Santiago.
The Turkish envoy underscored that the efforts of the Foreign Ministry - especially after the July 15 coup attempt - and letters from many Turkish ministers to their counterparts in Chile have payed off in dividends. "As a result of our initiatives, it is safe to say that FETÖ's appearance in Chile has vanished or that [FETÖ] has gone underground."
The Chilean government has been affirmative towards Ankara's concerns in regard to the FETÖ threat. The Chilean Foreign Ministry condemned the July 15 coup attempt on the same day.
Turkey has earned a permanent place in hearts of Chileans
Turkey has earned a place in the hearts of Chileans through its soft power stemming from cooperation between the two states and the broadcasting of Turkish TV series booming in the country, the Turkish envoy also added.
Kaya said Turkish culture has recently earned a permanent place in the hearts of Chileans. "The number of Turkish TV series airing in Chile since March 2014 has surpassed 15. In this respect, it can be said that Turkey and Turkish culture have gained a place in the hearts of Chileans from every background."
Stressing that Turkish TV series have been the trending topic both in Chile and across Latin America, the ambassador said Santiago has been the first country on the continent to welcome Turkish soap operas.
The Turkish envoy believes that Turkey's activities in Chile are carried out by exerting its soft power. Over the course of recent years, the Turkish government has been spreading influence from Africa to the Balkans, Latin America and Asia.
"We have been making contributions to the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk College in Santiago. Upon President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's instruction during his visit to Chile last year, the school's computer room, science laboratory, main building and sports hall were modernized," the envoy said.
Kaya recalls that 10 Chilean students and two teachers were flown to the southern Turkish province of Antalya on April 23, 2015 to mark the celebration of Children's Day. "Chilean students have been expressing their gratitude at every possible occasion, saying that they saw a sea for the first time in Antalya, boarded a plane for the first time and represented their country at an international event."
The Turkish efforts in Chile are also aimed at those in need. The Turkish envoy said that the fire department in Quillicura, a poor suburban district in Santiago, was provided with $5,000 help in cash by the Turkish Embassy. Since then, the name of the Quillicura Fire Department has been changed to the Turkish-Chilean Friendship Fire Department. In addition, 35 firefighter vests and a vehicle were offered to the fire department. Kaya also informed that a group of Chilean firefighters will be trained in Ankara next month.
The Turkish help extends to hospitals and retirement homes, as well. Kaya said Turkey has modernized the El Pino Hospital in 2013 through the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA). Furthermore, TİKA provides a retirement home hosting Christian Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese refugees with whatever they need.
'Bilateral trade volume could jump to $1B'
The Turkish economy has not quite been able to profit from its potential in Latin America. In fact, the free trade agreement (FTA) signed with the Chilean government in 2011 was the first of its kind in the continent for Ankara.
Emphasizing that the FTA has helped the two countries double the bilateral trade volume, the Turkish ambassador said there are various ways to strengthen trade relations even more. "Chile is the first and only Latin American country with which we have a free trade agreement. The bilateral trade volume has come around $650 million after the agreement was implemented in 2011. However, even though our bilateral trade diminished in parallel with the global economic slowdown, it is safe to say that it could reach $1 billion in a short period of time," Kaya said.
"The trade volume between Turkey and Chile was $470 million in 2016 and $188 million constitutes Turkey's exports to Chile, while another $282 million constitutes Turkey's imports. Chile remains Turkey's fourth biggest trade partner in the region," the Turkish Foreign Ministry states on its website.