Why Turkey Matters (Now More Than Ever)

Turkey, Istanbul, View of Sultan Ahmed Mosque at Sultanahmet district
Turkey, Istanbul, View of Sultan Ahmed Mosque at Sultanahmet district

In case you haven't heard, the city of Istanbul was bombed this week. Suicide bombers chose the city's main airport -- Turkey's largest -- as its target on Tuesday, killing nearly 50, injuring nearly more than 200.

It's the latest in a series of bombings that has rocked Turkey in the past two years. And it's a big deal -- a very big deal -- that we in the U.S. need to pay attention to.

When Paris was attacked in recent months, the Western World reacted in ways it should have. It was horrified. Many of us -- hundreds of thousands of us -- changed our Facebook profiles to show images of a black Eiffel Tower. Paris was a friend who'd been hurt in this strange new world of terrorist-driven wars. And we wanted to show our support for our friends in France. If it could happen in Europe, it could happen to us.

Turkey's not getting anywhere near that same level of support. And it needs it. Now more than ever.

Here are just a few reasons why:

1) Turkey is in Europe, too. As a nation, most of us know how important Europe is. We certainly were in agreement about that last week in the wake of the shocking Brexit vote. But most of us think of Europe as Britain, France and Germany. Often forgotten is the fact that Turkey is in Europe, too. Not all of it. But a significant part of it. And it should be given the same level of respect we give to other European nations, especially because of its strategic geographic location, which brings me to my next point:

2) Turkey is where East meets West. Turkey is literally what stands between those European countries we readily identify as our friends -- hi France and Britain and Germany -- and those nations in an ongoing state of turmoil, notably Syria, Iraq and Iran. Fingers have been pointed in recent years at Turkey, suggesting that the nation has helped -- some argue inadvertently while others argue intentionally -- stir the pot of unease in the Middle East. But none of that takes away from the fact that Turkey has long assisted us in NATO campaigns and has been a critical buffer zone separating the West from some of the world's most dangerous "hot spots" that cannot and should not be ignored.

3) Turkey is a Moslem nation. A really impressive Moslem nation. It's no great secret that there's a lot of misinformation out there about what constitutes a Moslem nation. The mere mention of "Moslem nation" conjures up, for many, images of bloodshed and headscarves and angry men. But that's not Turkey. Many scholars have heralded Turkey as a miracle. And for good reason. What Ataturk managed to do a century ago was transform a shattered empire into the first modern Moslem nation -- replete with a modern alphabet, western attire and capable business leaders. What's more, he managed to institute a state of peace. Time and again, Turkey is pointed to as the Moslem country that stands to lead the way in spreading the spirit of peace and democracy to other Moslem nations. Its role as a leader among Moslem nations -- as the gold standard whose example can be emulated -- should not be underestimated.

4) Turkey is a great, big nation full of young people, paying attention to who has their back (and who doesn't). Let me paint you a more complete picture of Turkey. It's a nation of 75 million people, 14 million of them based in Istanbul alone. It's also a nation in which there are tons (and by tons -- I mean tons!) of young people. It boasts the youngest demographic among European nations -- with the average age of a citizen just 29 years old. These internet- and social media-savvy, increasingly-university-educated Turkish youth are watching closely how the world responds to crises like the one unfolding this week. They know that the world mourned for Paris. They also know that there is a bias against their nation. That bias has been acted out time and again as Turkey tries again and again to be granted a seat at the European Union table. This is a young nation with a ton of potential -- trade and otherwise. It is not a nation to be overlooked. And failing to show this very young nation that the lives of their fellow countrymen matter just as much as the lives in other European countries is critical.

5) Turkey is a nation on the brink. Turkey, long a friend of the U.S. and to the western world, has had five significant bombings in 2016 alone. It's had its fair share of political ups and downs thanks in large part to its current president, Erdogan, and his ongoing efforts to transform Turkey from a democracy into a nation ruled by a firm executive hand (which seeks to strip journalists of their liberties, among other things). The mounting unease created by this week's suicide attack is the last thing the nation needs -- as it tries to maintain a democracy void of the religious conservatives and military officials who wait in the wings, eager to use this moment of vulnerability as an opportunity to seize ever-greater control. If we want Turkey to remain Western-leading, then Turkey -- on both political and personal levels -- needs to be reminded it does not stand alone and that it has the west on its side.

Just as Paris needed our support last fall, so, too, does Turkey now. If anything, it could be argued that Turkey needs the support even more, owing to its geographic location. The West has a great deal to gain by lending the support, and even more to lose if it chooses to turn a blind eye.

Mary Pflum Peterson is a multi-Emmy-award-winning TV journalist. She lived and worked in Turkey for more than two years, covering earthquakes, federal elections, and mounting Kurdish tensions, among other issues.