Former Syrian astronaut in Turkey set for citizenship

Former Syrian astronaut in Turkey set for citizenship

ISTANBUL-Anadolu Agency
Former Syrian astronaut in Turkey set for citizenship

After fleeing a civil war in his country of birth, the world's first Syrian astronaut is close to becoming a Turkish citizen.

“I am not a Turkish citizen but I have an application, and it's in the final stages,” Muhammed Ahmed Faris, a decorated ex-air force pilot, said during the 10th Bosphorus Summit in Istanbul.

In 1987, Faris became the second Arab in space, flying with cosmonauts to the Mir Space Station to do research there for over a week.

Fast forward to 2011, the start of the Syrian civil war, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, over 5 million civilians have become refugees. Neighboring Turkey hosts 3.6 million of them, more than any country in the world -- including Faris, who came to Turkey in 2012.

“Life in Turkey is so nice and I would like to thank the Turkish community and Turkey for hosting Syrian refugees, as they are hosting around 4 million refugees,” said Faris.

“We got used to living in Turkey because Syrians and Turks are so similar,” he said. “Historically Syrians and Turks have lived together for years.”

Now Faris delivers lectures to high school and university students on space and astronomy, subjects he knows well firsthand.

“This month, I gave seven lectures in [the northwestern Turkish provinces of] Bursa and Istanbul at schools and universities,” he added.

After forming its own space agency, Turkey is due to announce an ambitious space program in 2020, according to the country's technology minister.

As for the future of the pioneering Faris, who took to the stars over 30 years ago, he said his terrestrial plans include putting down roots in Turkey.

“I will stay in Turkey, inshallah,” said the former astronaut.