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‘Choose science’: Elon Musk’s post on Ataturk kicks off debate in Turkey

Elon Musk quoted Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, credited for much of Turkey’s secular credentials that critics say have been eroded under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

world Updated: Nov 13, 2017 23:49 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Elon Musk,Mustafa Kemal Ataturk,Turkey
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk in Ankara, Turkey.(Presidential Palace via Reuters Photo)

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Instagram post dedicated to Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk racked up an unprecedented number of likes, but also touched a nerve in Turkey.

The image showed Musk standing at Ataturk’s mausoleum in the soft sunlight, with a caption that said, “Atatürk Anıtkabir.” Musk’s Instagram account has 141 entries, but this photo received the maximum likes – 1,013,975 to be exact.

On Twitter, Musk quoted Ataturk’s words, posting , “If one day, my words are against science, choose science.” Many Turkish commentators interpreted Musk’s invocation of Ataturk as a criticism of current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime.

Ataturk is credited for much of Turkey’s secular credentials that critics say have been eroded under Erdogan.

Musk’s posts were published after his meeting with Erdogan on Wednesday, where the two discussed cooperation between his companies and Turkish firms, including the launch of Turkish satellites, a senior official said.

Atatürk Anıtkabir

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

Presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin told state-run Anadolu Agency that the two also talked about electric cars and sustainable energy at the presidential palace complex in Ankara.

The comments made by the SpaceX CEO, who foresees human colonisation of Mars in coming years, were seen by many as a subtle reminder of Turkey’s past and its transformation under Erdogan. “Only a visionary can understand a visionary...,” wrote a user, among opposition from others.

Erdogan’s critics have long accused the President of eating away at the secular pillars of modern Turkey as set up by Ataturk when he established the republic in 1923.

Liberal Turks have alleged the Turkish President is crushing democratic freedoms and attempting to roll back the work of Ataturk, the Western-facing founder who believed education should be free of religious teachings.

“The attention Mr. Musk’s remarks praising Ataturk is getting from Turks is a reaction to the increased attacks against the republic’s founder,” Bloomberg quoted Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, as saying. “There has always been a fault line between defenders of Ataturk-style secularism and Islam.”

A new school curriculum announced by Turkey in July excluded Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, feeding opposition fears that Erdogan was subverting the republic’s secular foundations.

Erdogan has in the past spoken of raising a “pious generation” and after his AKP party came to power in 2002, the number of “Imam Hatip” religious schools has grown exponentially.

Since the failed coup on July 15, 2016, more than 50,000 people have been jailed in Turkey as they face trial. Some 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the civil service and private sector.

Erdogan marked Ataturk’s 79th death anniversary on Friday by praising the leader as a national independence hero. But in his speech, he criticised interpretations of Ataturk’s legacy, saying: “There’s a big difference between Ataturk and Ataturkism.”

Earlier that week, Erdogan had announced plans to demolish a culture centre in Istanbul that was named after Ataturk.

(With agency inputs) 

First Published: Nov 13, 2017 18:26 IST