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Turkey's Space Agency Chief Has A Wild Idea About What Caused The Earthquake

What if the devastating earthquake was caused by a weapon fired from a satellite that pierced the earth's surface? How does someone like this wind up in charge of science in a great nation like Turkey?

Photo of head of the Turkish Space Agency ​Serdar Hüseyin Yıldırım

Head of the Turkish Space Agency Serdar Hüseyin Yıldırım

Mehmet Yılmaz


ISTANBUL — The Turkish Space Agency runs the country's space program with the stated aim to: “prepare strategic planning on space and aeronautics science technologies." Serdar Hüseyin Yıldırım, an aviation engineer, chairs the agency. His existence came across my radar for the first time thanks to the recent earthquake that hit Turkey and the region.

We were flooded with conspiracy theories after the earthquake, but I'm awarding Yıldırım first prize for statements he made at a conference last year, in which he describes a satellite-based weapon.

In the video, Yıldırım says that the weapon is capable of firing 10-meter-long, arrow-shaped bars of titanium from satellites down to Earth, where he claims they can penetrate as deep as five kilometers, causing intense earthquakes.

After a video of his remarks started to circulate after the earthquake, Yıldırım backtracked, saying on Twitter that he wasn't talking about a weapon that could cause earthquakes.

In the video, Yıldırım describes the length of the bars fired by this supposed orbital weapon, but not their diameter, so I can't calculate how heavy they would be. But regardless, using current technology it would be incredibly expensive to transport them into space. Moreover, these bars would need some kind of propulsion system to make the necessary angle corrections to prevent burning up when re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. They would need heat shields, too, which would increase weight and costs.

Only a superpower like the U.S., Russia or China could build such a weapon and keep it indefinitely on a low-orbit satellite. By nature, such a technology would have to be a highly guarded secret, to keep it out of reach of rival superpowers. But guess what? Yıldırım says he has seen blueprints for this weapon. This is an epic espionage success — one for the history books!

How did it come to this? How did someone who could share such a wild conspiracy theory, without a second thought — and who claims to have seen the blueprints, no less — become the Chair of the Turkish Space Agency? What went wrong?

The answer lies in history.

254 years ago

Let's travel back in time, and leave Yıldırım and his fertile imagination for a moment. We’ll come back to him later.

It’s June 3, 1769. An astronomic event that will happen once in about a century is about to happen. In Tahiti, British astronomer Charles Green observes the planet Venus passing in front of the Sun. The next passing will be on December 11, 2117; none of us will see it, no matter how much life God grants us.

At the time, astronomers had discovered that they could calculate the exact distance between the Earth and the Sun if the passing of Venus could be observed from two different locations. The British government dispatched a group of scientists to the southern hemisphere, aboard the ship Endeavour captained by James Cook. There were more scientists and observers than soldiers and sailors on the ship, and in addition to successfully observing the transit of Venus across the Sun, they named and cataloged hundreds of plants, insects, and animals and upended the contemporary understanding of the world map.

Green, the astronomer, died from scurvy on the expedition. Let us say: rest in peace, and go back even further in time.

Photo of a statue of Ottoman navigator, geographer and cartographer Piri Reis

Statue of Ottoman navigator, geographer and cartographer Piri Reis

Karamanli86/Wikimedia Commons

No good deed…

In 1547, Piri Reis became an admiral in the Ottoman navy. He commandeered the naval forces near Suez in the 1550s, took the port of Aden back from the Portuguese and captured Muscat, an important strategic base.

Kubad Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Basra, was jealous of Reis’ accomplishments, and spread false accusations that he was an atheist, and wanted to take Sultan’s throne. Eventually, the Sultan ordered his execution.

This question has haunted me for years: what would have happened if his story had not ended with his untimely death?

My guess: his rivalry with Portugal, the greatest naval force of the time, would take him to the shores of Africa, and maybe to the Atlantic. Wondering what the Portuguese and Spanish were up to on the other side of the shore, he would set sail for South America.

It's worth seriously discussing why European Christians were able to surpass Ottoman Muslims.

Let me dream! There, Ottoman sailors would meet the civilizations of the Aztec and Maya. The Ottomans would have their share of the gold, silver and resources which enriched and strengthened Europe. Maybe some of the people in South and North America would have converted to Islam. Ottomans would join the people of the Old World who were influenced by a new culture.

Maybe Reis would declare his own sultanate in the land he conquered: a Muslim, Turkish state in Latin America! Maybe Turkish would be among the languages spoken in Latin America, along with Spanish and Portuguese. Maybe Turks would be blamed for the destruction of the Aztec and Maya civilizations, or the genocide of Indigenous people.

These what-if questions can never be answered. But we can say this: the world could be different if the Ottomans would pay more importance to people like Reis.

It's worth seriously discussing why European Christians were able to surpass Ottoman Muslims. Why did Europe, which was so far behind the Ottomans from the 12th century to the 14th, progress so much over the past four centuries and become masters of the world?

If the Ottomans had replaced the bigotry of religion with science, could a liar who spouts nonsense about orbital earthquake weapons become the director of the Turkish Space Agency?

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Turkey: The Blind Spot Between Racial And Religious Discrimination

Before the outbreak of the Hamas-Israel war, a social media campaign in Turkey aimed to take on anti-Arab and anti-refugee sentiment. But the campaign ultimately just swapped one type of discrimination for another.

photo of inside Istanbul's Eminonu New Mosque

Muslims and tourists visiting Istanbul's Eminonu New Mosque.

Levent Gültekin


ISTANBUL — In late September, several pro-government journalists in Turkey promoted a social media campaign centered around a video against those in the country who are considered anti-Arab. The campaign was built around the idea of being “siblings in religion,” and the “union of the ummah,” or global Muslim community.

(In a very different context, such sentiments were repeated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the Israel-Hamas war erupted.)

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While the goal is understandable, these themes are highly disconnected from reality.

First, let's look at the goal of the campaign. Our country has a serious problem of irregular migrants and refugees, and the administration isn’t paying adequate attention to this. On the contrary, they encourage the flow of refugees with policies such as selling citizenship.

Worries about irregular migrants and refugees naturally create tension in the society. The anger that targets not the government but the refugees has come to a point which both threatens the social peace and brought the issue to hostility towards the Arabs, even the tourists. The actual goal of this campaign by the pro-government journalists is obvious if you consider how an anti-tourist movement would hurt Turkey’s economy.

However, as mentioned above, while the goal is understandable, the themes of the “union of the ummah” and “siblings in religion” are problematic. The campaign offers the idea of being siblings in religion as an argument against the rising racism towards irregular migrants and refugees; a different form of racism or discrimination.

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