Goodbye, Professor Terzioğlu

Goodbye, Professor Terzioğlu

It must have been in the beginning of October 2015, on a warm, almost summer-like day. I was with a group of friends at the seashore in northwestern Çanakkale province, looking at the Alexandria Troas, or what the Ottomans called “Eski Stampol,” and its sunken port, which very few people know about…

My phone rang; it was Professor Tosun Terzioğlu calling. I learned from him that Aziz Sancar had won the Nobel Prize. How excited and happy he was on the phone that day.

When Prof. Tosun called at an unusual hour of the day or night, there must be an important thing; that was why he would call, to share it.  

One last call I received from him in this category was about the decision by the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) to collect and destroy certain books it had itself printed. He said, “Is there really such a thing? I cannot believe it.” I did some research and when I confirmed the information, I called him. His disappointment and his anger, but mostly his surprise, was reflected on his voice. Yes, TÜBİTAK had found the books it had published itself to be “inconvenient” and was going to destroy them. 

I had met Prof. Terzioğlu very shortly after he became the chair of TÜBİTAK. Prof. Erdal İnönü had organized his appointment, and was the same person who introduced me to him. This means that we have known each other more than 20 years. 

If today the Turkish army and government institutions, primarily the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), have a “national” code to encrypt their communication, this was possible due to the work launched by Terzioğlu. Before he came to TÜBİTAK, all of Turkey’s sensitive communication was done through crypto equipment bought from the U.S. 

I remember him telling me how surprised he was at this situation. We had decided on how vital it was for those who rule the country to have certain scientific literacy, not necessarily in much detail.  

It is important that everyone in a management position, not only in the state but also in the corporate world, have a certain level of science literacy. There is science in Turkey but neither companies nor the state have an idea about what to demand from that science because they are not scientifically literate. Turkey’s mathematicians could have actually made the national encryption code much earlier, but the state never thought of asking them. 

He was the founding rector of Sabancı University. I don’t know how many times they have received the entrepreneur university prize from the Science Ministry. This does not just happen; Prof. Terzioğlu founded that university when there was no Science Ministry or its entrepreneur university prize. Many of Turkey’s advanced science research institutes were first founded within Sabancı University in cooperation with the related industry. 

Even if the Sabancı family’s support decreases after many decades, the university will remain a good and strong scientific institute because its foundations are very solid.  

The math community in Turkey was a tiny group in those years. Everybody knew each other. Terzioğlu was in administration for a significant part of his academic life but he never left mathematics. He had promised the Mathematic Village of Prof. Ali Nesin that he would conduct a seminar this summer. 

He must have been one of the most humble and moderate people in the world. He was always categorically supporting all freedoms, not only freedom of thought and expression.

His biggest dream was a science environment where an institution like Turkey’s Higher Education Board (YÖK) did not exist, where universities were based on a short “framework law” and where they administrated themselves. He said at the most there could be an accreditation council. 

According to him, even such a body was redundant, because the value of an individual may be initially assessed by a diploma hanging on their wall but their real value would sooner or later emerge when they started working and the significance of the diploma diminished. 

Turkey has lost an important scientist, an academic, an educator and an education administrator. It is also a very big loss for his wife, his daughters and so many people whose lives he touched, including the tens of thousands of students he taught…

We laid Prof. Terzioğlu to rest the other day… I will miss him very much.