After a summer of mass shootings in Orlando, racial tensions in Dallas, and terror attacks in France, it is tempting to look the other way when it comes to a middle-of-the-night coup in the far-flung land of Turkey. But make no mistake -- what happened in Turkey on Friday night, what continues to unfold in Turkey, matters. Not just to the people of Turkey, but to the rest of the world as well.
Here are five things to know about the coup in Turkey:
1) This is not Turkey's first coup. Turkey has had a long history of military uprisings. It's the fifth time the military has attempted to take over the presiding government in a half century. Of note: the 1960 coup organized by young military members, which resulted in the then-prime minister's ouster and eventual execution. Coups in Turkey have traditionally been viewed as the military's attempt to protect the democratic principles established by Ataturk during the founding of the modern Turkish republic. That appears to have been the case for this most recent coup attempt, which was reportedly launched by Turkish military officials intent on keeping the growing power of Turkey's president Erdogan in check. That said, there's some murkiness surrounding who actually masterminded the coup in Turkey, which brings me to my next point.
2) It's unclear who masterminded the coup -- and why. While fingers have been pointed at a group within the military calling itself the "Peace at Home Council", which is derived from Ataturk's famous saying "Peace At Home, Peace In the World", it's not clear precisely who masterminded the military uprising. President Erdogran claims that the coup was actually organized by a cleric now based in the United States, Fethullah Gulen, and has demanded his extradition. Gulen left Turkey, at his choosing, nearly 20 years ago to hole up at a compound in Pennsylvania. He embraces what the New York Times describes as "a moderate, pro-Western brand of Sunni Islam that appeals to many well-educated and professional Turks." Gulen has denied any participation in the coup. Other rumors floating about are that President Erdogan himself was behind the failed coup attempt in a bid to provide his regime with ever-greater power and to give him ever-more reasons to further crack down upon the nation's journalists and others he deems a threat.
3) Regardless of who was the ultimate mastermind of the coup, the coup has managed to further strain U.S.-Turkish relations. The United States has long considered Turkey an ally and friend. But relations have been strained between the two nations in recent years, particularly in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which created a myriad of problems for Turkey, not the least of which was an influx of refugees. The two countries have also not seen eye to eye about how to handle Syria and what to do about Turkey's Kurdish population. Still, owing to its strategic position, literally bridging Europe and Asia, and owing, too, to its democratic government, which has served as a model to the rest of the Moslem world, Turkey has been embraced as a longtime ally and friend. The coup threatens to further undermine that friendship. The Friday night uprising blocked access to Incirlik, the U.S. airbase which houses, among other things, U.S. nuclear weapons. Airspace was closed around the base in the hours following the uprising. Erdogan has long been growing more vocal about his anti-U.S. views, which he has imparted to the young Turkish population. Now that he has implicated the U.S.-based Gulen in masterminding the coup, many believe Erdogan will use the coup as an excuse to further distance Turkey from the U.S. and from the West in general.
4) If Erdogan is not a name you know, that needs to change. Now.Turkey's president is no flash in the pan. He has been in power since 2003 -- serving first as Turkey's prime minister. That's more than a decade. That's longer than Obama's been in the White House. That's longer than David Cameron's term. Erdogan is a leader that's steadily seized more and more power in Turkey, decreasing the impact and reach of the military, stripping journalists of their liberties. Many have called him a dictator. He famously jailed a 16 year old for speaking out against him, a Turkish beauty queen for reciting a poem he believed undermined him. After decades of acting as a secular nation, Turkey, under Erdogan, has embraced an increasingly non-secular way of life. Females again wear -- and are encouraged to wear -- headscarves, after being told for years they were forbidden to do so. He's additionally pushed for alcohol-free zones in the nation. He's a leader that has voiced a desire to lean East, rather than West. That is not expected to change in the wake of the coup. If anything, Erdogan is expected to use the coup as an excuse to crack down harder on those he deems critics and threats.
5) What happens in Turkey does not stay in Turkey. Especially now. Turkey has always held a pivotal position in the world, owing to its unique geographic location, sandwiched neatly between Europe and Asia. It's long been a buffer for the West -- the country that absorbs the problems of the Middle East before they spread their tentacles. The shockwaves felt in Turkey have always threatened to spread elsewhere. But now that the shockwaves are coming *from* Turkey -- are not just spreading *through* Turkey -- the West needs to pay attention. Turkey has long been the leader of the Moslem world -- the gold standard -- the shining example of what a Moslem country could achieve as a secular nation. Its instability now threatens to impact the global economy and upend the delicate balance of the Middle East. Make no mistake. What happens in Turkey will not stay in Turkey. It will spread, first to Europe, then way (way) beyond.
Mary Pflum Peterson is a multi-Emmy-Award-winning TV journalist. She spent nearly three years living and working in Turkey and from her post in Istanbul covered massive earthquakes, federal elections, and rising Kurdish tensions, among other issues.