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Why Turkey matters: NATO ally straddles Europe and Asia

An attempted coup killed hundreds, and now the government is imprisoning thousands. Here's a snapshot of the U.S. ally.

Turkey is the only majority Muslim member of the NATO alliance. Here's a closer look at the country.

Location

It is in a strategic geographic location, straddling the Asian and European continents, and sharing borders with Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Greece, and with Bulgaria Romania, Ukraine and Russia across the Black Sea to the north.

Population

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wave flags as they capture an Turkish Army APC after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on Bosphorus bridge on July 16, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Gokhan Tan | Getty Images
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wave flags as they capture an Turkish Army APC after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on Bosphorus bridge on July 16, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Seventy-nine million is 99.8 percent Muslim, with the remainder Christians or Jews, according to the CIA World Factbook. About three-quarters are considered Turkish and a quarter belong to the Kurdish ethnic group. Tensions with the country's Kurds have erupted into a insurgency that claimed tens of thousands of lives, especially in the 1980s.

Military

Turkey's military, which in the past has seen itself as protecting a secular state, has staged four previous coups since 1960, the last in 1997. The nation has since elected its leaders in democratic elections.

Government

Turkey's current President Recep Erdogan has ruled for 13 years. He was first served two terms as prime minister, before being elected to the more ceremonial role of president in 2014, with 51.79 percent of the vote. His Islamist AKP party gained control of parliament in parliamentary elections the following year.

During the coup attempt, military personnel seized state-controlled media sites, confiscating phones and forcing broadcasters to stream weather forecasts. Erdogan, who had been vacationing earlier Friday in the coastal town of Izmir, called one of the remaining stations on his iPhone and called on his followers to hit the streets and block the coup.

Relationship with US

Erdogan has been a critic of U.S. policy in Syria, accusing the U.S. of not doing enough to support rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. Yet Turkey has been a crucial ally in the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. military has been using Turkey's Incerlik air base as a staging ground for air strikes and other operations against the terror group.

Terrorism

Turkey cracked down on Islamic State fighters passing through Turkey into Syria. And Turkey has also played a crucial role in keeping Syrian refugees from traveling through it to Europe. A flood of refugees last year dwindled to a trickle after Turkey closed its borders.

There have been several terrorist attacks in Turkey in the recent months, which Turkish officials attributed to Kurdish separatists and the Islamic State.