An attempted military coup that took place in Turkey on Friday night has left more than 250 people dead and more than 1,400 people wounded — not something most people would consider a laughing matter. The coup effort, which has reportedly failed, was an attempt by a small and largely unorganized number of military officials to overthrow the government of President Tayyip Erdogan, who was vacationing on the coast at the time and flew back to Istanbul when news of unrest hit.
As tanks rolled down the streets of both Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey's largest cities, and citizens were called upon to leave their homes and hit the streets to defend their country from coup plotters, signs of xenophobia were rampant on Twitter, where scores of people attempted to make light of one of the most significant events to occur in Turkey in recent history. As a bridge between the West and the East and a country that hosted 2.5 million Syrian refugees in 2015, Turkey and the coup attempt affect the entire world, whether the rest of us realize it or not. And many folks on Twitter made it perfectly clear that they don't realize.
Predictably, the words "turkey coop" blew up on Twitter, along with posts like these:
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Sure, you could argue that horrific events require a little bit of lightness to take the edge off, but it's time to get down to business and outline why we should care about what's happening in Turkey right now.
- A coup could upset Turkey's chances at joining the European Union — Erdogan is a proponent of Turkey joining the EU, but the EU isn't entirely convinced that the country's government is stable enough at the moment. Even though the military officials responsible for the attempted coup are in favor of EU membership as well, they feel that Erdogan is trying to establish a dictatorship in Turkey, and their desire to stop this overrules the possibility of closer ties with the EU. There are lots of arguments for and against Turkey joining the EU, but one of the major points Americans and Europeans care about is that leaving Turkey out could turn our NATO ally into a rival.
- President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry support the Turkish government — The White House released a statement after the coup attempt that made America's position perfectly clear: “The president and secretary agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically elected government of Turkey, show restraint and avoid any violence or bloodshed. The secretary underscored that the State Department will continue to focus on the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Turkey. The president asked the secretary to continue to keep him updated as the situation unfolds.”
- Hillary Clinton has released a statement on Turkey — The Democratic presidential nominee released the following statement on Twitter:
- Donald Trump has yet to make a statement about Turkey — It's possible that Trump will provide comment any minute now about the situation overseas, but as of right now, his most recent Twitter post was a Clinton take-down:
The reason this is important? One of the biggest complaints about Trump is that he lacks experience in foreign affairs, while Clinton is criticized for the way she handled foreign affairs like Benghazi while Secretary of State. Both of their responses when something this big occurs matter greatly in an election year.
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- Erdogan has blamed the coup on a Muslim cleric residing in Pennsylvania — Fethullah Gulen is a Muslim cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in eastern Pennsylvania. Despite being distanced from his native land, Erdogan reportedly believes that Gulen is to blame for the coup attempt and that his supporters are intent on creating a "parallel state" within Turkey. Details about Gulen's beliefs are a bit murky. Some say he preaches a moderate form of Islam, is in favor of scientific advancements and interfaith dialogue and condemns jihadist attacks, even more so than Erdogan. Others claim he is trying to wreak havoc on Turkey's secularist establishment. Either way, because Gulen resides here, the United States can't help but be caught in the middle.
- A successful coup in Turkey means less aid from the United States — According to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the United States is required to cut off aid to any country with a government that has been established as the result of a military coup.
- Turkey is our gateway to the Middle East — Turkey has been instrumental in securing its borders so that potential members of ISIS are prevented from fleeing to Syria to join the Islamic extremists. A takeover of the country's government now would leave it vulnerable and possibly put ISIS in a position of gaining more power.