A mysterious metal slab that appeared in southeastern Turkey last week, then quietly disappeared, turned out to be a government publicity stunt to promote Turkey’s new space program.
The monolith, which stood about 10 feet tall, was discovered in a rural area of the province of Sanliurfa on Friday then vanished without explanation four days later. It was inscribed with a cryptic message in the Gokturk alphabet, an ancient Turkic language: “Look at the sky, see the moon.”
During a televised address on Tuesday, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced an ambitious new space program for the country, including missions to the moon. An image of the monolith was projected behind him.
Turkey’s 10-year vision for space, Mr. Erdogan said, was driven by a “famous slogan.”
“I announce to the whole world and say, ‘Look at the sky, see the moon,’” he said.
Mustafa Varank, Turkey’s minister of industry and technology, told the state-run Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that the idea to plant the monolith came from his ministry colleagues. The inspiration, he said, derived from a period at the end of 2020 when a mysterious monolith appeared in the Utah desert, followed by others from California to Romania.
“My young colleagues who closely follow current developments had such a suggestion,” Mr. Varank said. “They said, ‘Those monoliths are emerging all around the world. How about we do such a thing, inscribe such a message on it, and do it in the Gokturk language, increase the mystery a bit more?’”
Unlike some of its predecessors, the Turkey monolith was protected by armed guards, including members of the military police. Mr. Varank said his colleagues erected the monolith in the middle of the night. Local leaders were aware of the plan, he said, and its placement near Gobekli Tepe, a UNESCO-protected archaeological excavation site, was intentional. (The site is the setting for the Turkish Netflix series “The Gift.”)
The monolith quickly became the subject of intense curiosity, drawing visitors from hundreds of miles away.
Fuat Demirdil, the owner of the field where the monolith was found, told the Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that he was not sure of its purpose.
“We do not know if the metal block was put on my field for publicity or advertisement purposes,” he said.
The confusion aided in churning up interest and publicity, as the government officials had intended.
“It was good humor,” Mr. Varank said.