Would Turkish Scientists Ponder Homecoming After Ankara’s Call?

As NASA Scientist Serkan Golge languishes in prison, why would others return to Turkey?

Abdullah Ayasun

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NASA Scientist Serkan Golge (Image: Courtesy of Kubra Golge).

In a desperate attempt to stop further bleeding of the country’s depleted human resources after an irrevocable brain drain, Turkey’s president and senior leaders call on Turkish scientists living abroad to return to their homeland. Both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling party representatives, though grudgingly, appreciate the fact that Turkey faces a shortage of capable, able men who would pull back things from breaking apart amid undeniable signs of impotence and lack of coherence across all sectors of the bureaucracy in the post-purge era.

In this respect, the president, in a speech last year, directly called on Turkish scientists abroad to return home to contribute to the scientific and technological production in Turkey. For someone familiar with the recent course of events over the past two years, the call appears to be an oxymoron, a self-contradiction that lays bare the paradoxical world in which Erdogan and his government live. It would be professional suicide for any scientist to go back to Turkey given the fact that many people from the scientific community languish in prison on bogus charges in politically-motivated trials.

Take Serkan Golge from NASA, a distinguished, young scientist who was on a vacation with his family in southern Turkey when the coup attempt took place in July 2016. After a tip from a distant relative, he was imprisoned in relation to the botched coup. Turkey’s authorities tried him on coup-related and terrorism charges. After that, his life turned into a nightmare, so do for his wife and kid who were stuck in Turkey, with Golge in prison. Numerous attempts by the U.S. officials to secure Serkan’s release have yielded no result. The Turkish authorities have not budged. Over flimsy charges, he was sentenced to 7,5 years in prison. Although seemed inconceivable, he spent his first year in solitary confinement.

Understandably, the Turkish president has long relished the idea of boosting local technological efforts and advancing industrial production at home. But there is an unmistakable disconnect between political wishes and the world of realities.

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Abdullah Ayasun

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 2023 WHCA Scholar. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun