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Turkey Awaits the Final Countdown

Erdogan announced another mega project today. He said, “We will go to the Moon in 2023, the centenary of the Republic.” His words roused excitement in the hall and was applauded by everyone in the audience.

When I first heard those words announcing Turkey’s bid in claiming her place in the space, I could not help but remember with a smile a joke I listened when I was a teenager: “During a conference held among space mission controllers, delegates claim what their next destination will be. The American delegate says, “We landed a man on the Moon, so we will go to Mars next time.”

The Russian delegate claims they will send a cosmonaut to Neptune, and the Chinese delegate claims they will go to Saturn. When all delegates finish speaking, they all turn to the Turkish delegate and ask, “And what about you people?” The Turkish delegate – originally a zoo warden but politically promoted to become a chief scientist in a research lab – smiles broadly and says, “Well, we will go to the Sun!” When the other delegates protest and say it is impossible because of the excessive heat, the Turkish delegate replies, “No problem, we will reach there at dusk.”

Well, Turkish Moonshot is the latest one within the myriad mega projects announced by the Erdogan regime. Erdogan and his associates have already announced the Mega Istanbul Canal Project, a “local-and-national” automobile, a “local-and-national” airplane and extracting natural gas from the vast reserves most recently discovered in the Black Sea. Other than the occasional rent transactions happening along the route of the proposed mega canal and a recently showcased and foreign-built electric car prototype, these projects are nowhere to be seen. Indeed, it is curious they surface whenever there is an election around the corner.

This time, we can say that Erdogan may be on the path to achieve one of these projects. He chatted with Elon Musk a couple of weeks ago, and if the price is right, Elon Musk might provide the tested technology and whatnot for the current regime to make Erdogan’s wish come true. And, Erdogan has implicitly criticized India and the failure of its Moon mission.

Meanwhile, India had developed all the necessary infrastructure, built its rocket for the mission with its scientists from the stretch, and received no assistance from abroad. In this respect, it may be said that it was a great success of the Indian scientists, and they got very close to the Moon. Next time lucky, they may mostly succeed in getting on the Moon.

We can ask this question here: What benefit will this bring to the country? Before answering this question, I will shed light on the current Turkish higher and basic education system.

Given the deadline provided by the President himself, Turkey is only two years shy of fulfilling this mission; so, Turkish scientists seem not be the focal figures in the country’s Moon mission but will just cooperate with the foreign experts who will install the technology. Secondly, Turkish academia is in the sick bed ‘thanks to’ Erdogan regime’s relentless purges. After the failed coup attempt, the regime shut down 3000 high-achieving private schools and 15 private universities in Turkey with baseless claims and allegations. More than 6000 academics were also dismissed from their posts. According to a news review wired by Reuters in March 2017, the “purge of academics leaves the future of Turkish universities in doubt”. You can guess nothing has changed in Turkey since then and things get worse on each day.

Many universities in Turkey have no enough academics for the degree programs offered, and there are cases when the rectors in many universities also crew the dean positions in the absence of qualified faculty members. This poses a massive challenge to the Erdogan regime, and it will likely render Turkey’s high-technology demands and prospects for space missions stillborn.

There is great competition among firm rivals, Iran and Gulf states, in many ways in the Middle East. Iran is building a nuclear reactor despite the US sanctions, and the UAE launched a space mission to Mars last June. All these events are the signs of modern technological breakthroughs in the region.

However, Erdogan always wished these countries to accept Turkey’s leadership, specifically his authority, in the region. He tried to get approval through Turkey’s political advances but not through the contributions made to the technological development in the region. As the President, he led Turkey to lose all neighborly countries’ support one after another due to his revivalist regional policies. These were not just regional failures, but also great gambles that placed Turkey on a trail of fire simultaneously. All what the helmsmen had recently have always been such empty promises and mega projects to sell dreams to the public to have their constant support.

While his moon is clouded with successive failures no matter how hard he tries to fly high as he used to do, Erdogan makes another attempt to dispel this overcast mood with something he thinks can quickly achieve. The mission to the Moon sounds to be the best fit. No different than contracting foreign aerospace companies for placing Turksat satellites on the orbit for many years, Erdogan will just transfer payments to a foreign company to make the Moon mission possible and sell it to the domestic public opinion and likeminded international sidekicks as ‘his’ Turkey’s success.

Meanwhile, this will not change the country’s ground realities and will not make any impact regionally and globally.

Not to forget: Erdogan also craves for obtaining nuclear capacity to complement his expansionist drive. He is sure Iran will have some warheads one day, and his ‘new Turkey’ cannot risk lagging behind. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are friendly countries to Pakistan which has the know-how for developing and building nuclear arsenal. Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia despise the idea of Iran going nuclear. It came on the international media that Erdogan is in close contact with Pakistani officials in negotiation for getting the necessary infrastructure and the needed advanced technology to build Turkish nuclear weapons. One cannot help but think: May this Moon mission be a ruse to cover this?

In brief, the common people in Turkey will not attain wealth or jump class overnight if this Moon mission ever comes true. They will only have paid the entire expenditures from their shallow pockets, and the Erdogan regime would own it as it is a great success. If sending a shuttle to the Moon would be a criterion of success in developing countries, Iran and North Korea would be the most prosperous countries on the Earth. Unfortunately, peoples of these countries benefit nothing from this so-called technological development. When Erdogan will want to have nuclear warheads as well, it dreads if people in Turkey will welcome it without knowing how much suffering it will bring.

Rather than sending a mission to Moon, Erdogan could reform the Turkish education system and re-instate all the academics back to their positions. Certainly, this will bring a real and positive change for the country.

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Engin Yigit is a Politurco columnist, activist, and author. Follow him at @enginyigtt.

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