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Were You Involved in the Turkish Coup Attempt? Me Neither.

by on July 20, 2016 10:37 AM

I have a message for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Stop accusing us Pennsylvanians of plotting against you.

To review: After surviving an attempted coup last week, President Erdogan didn’t just address his own people. He also spoke directly to Keystone Staters.

“I have a message for Pennsylvania,” he said. “You have engaged in enough treason against this nation.”  

Now I don’t know what sort of mischief you have gotten up to this summer, but I have reviewed my desk calendar and searched my conscience and, like exiled Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the Poconos, I can say, unequivocally, that I have not engaged in any activities that could be in any way construed as undermining the legitimacy of the democratically elected government in Ankara.

That said, I can see where a conspiracy theorist might spin my Turkish connections, however tenuous, into a web of intrigue that culminated in last week’s startling events.

First, there’s my Uncle Lou. A career military man, my father’s older brother met and married a Turkish woman when he was stationed in Turkey. The two of them had a daughter who’s about my age, which means I have a half-Turkish cousin. But honestly, I haven’t seen her or been in touch with her since I was a kid. We’re not even Facebook friends.

Then there was my visit to Istanbul from Lviv, Ukraine, in 2012. Observers who think the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych shortly after my departure from that country in 2013 was more than coincidence might conclude that after fomenting revolution in Ukraine, Turkey was my next assignment.

But in Ukraine I was way too busy trying not to slip on unshoveled sidewalks to dabble in rabble rousing, and I spent most of my time in Istanbul fending off aggressive rug sellers. Any mention of a “turkey club” in my communications with my associates was referencing a deli sandwich rather than a cabal of anti-Erdogan plotters.  

I was also in Istanbul as recently as last summer, but I never even got out of the airport. Yes, I was only passing through Turkey on my way elsewhere, but so vast and busy is Istanbul Ataturk Airport that I’m not sure I could have found my way out of it even if I had the time and inclination to do so.  

I believe it was while I was enjoying the sight and sounds of Ataturk that friends tried to stay in our house in State College for arts festival weekend. I say they tried because they couldn’t find the hidden key. I had no way of determining whether the key was where it was supposed to be and no way to help them gain entry if it wasn’t.

I cite this little snafu as incontrovertible evidence that I wasn’t able to manage Pennsylvania from Turkey. It stands to reason, therefore, that, as President Erdogan himself has claimed, “Turkey can’t be managed from Pennsylvania.”

The beleaguered president also insisted that “Turkey will not be run from a house in Pennsylvania.” Leaving aside whether the wording allows for the possibility that Turkey will be run from an apartment or condominium in Pennsylvania, I think I speak for many Pennsylvania householders when I say that most of us have enough trouble running the houses themselves to presume to attempt to run an entire sovereign nation on the side.

Or consider our state house in Harrisburg. Last year, the legislature and the governor could not agree on a budget until nine months after the start of the fiscal year – clear proof that Pennsylvanians have a hard time managing Pennsylvania.

On the other hand, after the 2015-16 budget fiasco, you can’t blame President Erdogan for harboring suspicions about the speed with which our executive and legislative branches settled on a spending plan for fiscal year 2016-17. Might they have quickly set aside their differences so they could turn to the job of meddling in the internal affairs of Turkey?

Do you have a better explanation for the sudden concord in Harrisburg? I didn’t think so.


OK, I’ve had my little jest. Apart from President Erdogan’s startling Pennsylvania references, a coup is no laughing matter. Almost 300 people died in Turkey last week. Thousands have been arrested.

By all accounts, Erdogan’s years as prime minister and now president have not been a golden age for democracy in Turkey. But as the Turks know all too well, military takeovers are no bargain either.

Here in the States, as disgusted as we are by the caliber of the people who seek political power and the corruption of the process by which they obtain power, the events in Turkey are a reminder of the blessings of stability. Having survived some truly terrible presidencies, the republic can even be expected to weather a Trump administration, should it come to that.



A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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