Why does the coup attempt in Turkey matter to the U.S.?

The world was shocked on Friday afternoon after word spread of an attempt to overthrow the government of Turkey by members of the country’s military.

After several hours, the attempted coup failed, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who was on vacation at the time – returned to the country and declared that he and is government remain  in charge.

The attempt came at a cost, at least 161 people have been killed and  nearly 1,500 injured. The number arrested stands at 3,000. President Erogan has promised those who planned and tried to carry out the coup would pay the “highest price.”


You may wonder why anything that happens in Turkey – from the recent bombings at its main airport to the coup attempt Thursday – matters to those of us in the United States.

Here’s a quick look at the answer to that question.

Where is Turkey anyway?

Turkey sits between Europe and the Asian continent on the Anatolian peninsula. The Black Sea is to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Turkey shares borders with eight countries: The Arab Republic, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The country’s largest city is Istanbul. Ankara is the capital.

How big is it?

The country of Turkey covers 302,535 sq. mi.

How many people live there?

79,749,461, live in Turkey, of which, 98 percent are Muslim. The majority of those consider themselves Turkish Muslims, about a quarter belong  to the ethnic Kurdish group.

Some history of the country

The Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The republic replaced the Ottoman system which was based on dynasty rule. The republic is based on a democratic and parliamentary system. In 1945 Turkey joined the United Nations and became a member of NATO in 1952. It is the only majority Muslim nation in the organization. The country’s constitution was adopted on Nov. 7, 1982.

The coup

It’s not the first time that the Turkish military has staged a coup. There have been five of them in the last 56 years – 1960, 1971, 1980, 1993, 1997.

A group of Turkish military officers said the coup was launched Thursday in order to restore democracy in the country. It’s unclear who actually led the coup. The country’s Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, called it a “stain on democracy.” The U.S. and NATO, urged the restoration of democracy, following the incident. The  Turkish military has long called for a secular (non-religious) government.

Who leads the country?

Recep Erdogan is president of Turkey. He has been ruling the government for the past 13 years, first as prime minster, then, in 2014, as president. He leads the Islamist AKP party which gained control of parliament in 2015.

So, why does Turkey matter to the U.S.?

Turkey is a major trading and defense ally of the United States, and is strategically located between Europe and Asia. The country has been a particularly strong partner in the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

On defense

Since 2014, Turkey has allowed anti-ISIS coalition forces to fly surveillance missions from Turkish bases. For the U.S. military, Turkey has allowed the use of the Incerlik air base for air strikes against ISIS, and has launched its own missions  into Syria. Turkey has criticized the United States for not using enough resources to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey has played a role as a U.S. and NATO partner in conflicts in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Economic reasons

Turkey is the fourth-largest U.S. trading partner. Because of Turkey’s location, it is key to the United States oil and natural gas exploration in that part of the world. The country has one of the fastest growing economies in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Turkey has a young and well-educated workforce.

Sources: Forbes; The CIA World Fact Book; Wikipedia; The Associated Press