Why did Aziz Sancar dedicate his Nobel Prize to Atatürk?

Aziz Sancar is a Turkish-American scientist who on Dec. 10 received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, shared with two other chemists. He was awarded for his work on human DNA. 

Sancar is the second person from Turkey to receive a Nobel Prize after Orhan Pamuk's literary award in 2006. He received his award at a ceremony in Stockholm, after an orchestra played a rendition of Mozart's "Turkish March."

Speaking to the media, Sancar said he had been able to win the prize was thanks to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. He also said he was going to present the award at An?tkabir, the Mausoleum of Atatürk in Ankara, on May 19, which is the anniversary of Atatürk initiating the war of independence in 1919 and is marked every year in Turkey as "Youth and Sports Day."

Coming from a low-income family in the town of Savur in Mardin, a province on the border with Syria where Kurdish and Arabic-origin Turkish citizens live side by side, Sancar made his way up in the world of science first in Turkey and then in the U.S., where he found greater academic freedoms and opportunities. One of his older brothers is a retired general, while his cousin is a member of parliament from the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). 

When asked whether his family is of Arabic origin, Sancar has been uncomfortable, saying "I'm a Turk and that's it." His words recall Atatürk's "melting pot Turkey" motto from the 1920s: "Happy is the one calling himself a Turk." 

Indeed, Sancar is a scientist with strong political opinions and actually his dedication of the award to Atatürk and vow to present it at the museum in Atatürk's Mausoleum is a strong statement in favor of Turkey's secular qualities. It is not likely to...

Continue reading on: