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Erdogan tears down Turkish-Armenian friendship monument
After Ankara's Prime Minister defined it as a "monstrosity", the statue is now being demolished, but the author, the artist Mehmet Aksoy, claims it is just a way to collect nationalists' votes.

It was meant to be the symbol of a new era of peace and reconciliation, the milestone of a path leading the two countries to a solid democratic alliance. Now it is just an obstacle on the windy road of re-election during the summer vote so it needed to be destroyed. The 'Turkish-Armenian friendship' statue, known also as 'The Statue of Humanity', used to stand 35 metres tall on the border between the two nations, by the city of Kars, in Turkey. It was commissioned in 2006 as a way to testify the great efforts of both sides to go beyond the division caused by the bloody battles of the First World War. Now the dialogue is stuck and the demolition of the freak monument, as the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it, underlines the failure of that process.

Last January, during his visit in the city, the premier said the statue was "weird" and a "monstrosity" also because it was offensively close to the tomb of an 11th-century Islamic scholar and its shadow used to ruin the view of that site. Kars municipality decided to tear down the controversial piece of art because, according to the local government, it was illegally erected in a protected area. On the other hand, Naif Alibeyoglu, the former Kars mayor who approved the original construction of the monument, said the municipality was not destroying a "monument to humanity" but "humanity itself". The demolition process started in the middle of April: the sculpture is being cut in 18 pieces and it will be soon totally removed. Turkey's 'Hurriyet' daily newspaper has reported that a Turkish construction firm signed a 180,000 dollars contract to demolish the monument. By the end of April it has already removed the 19-ton head of one of the figures, but it was not a simple task: many cables snapped during the work and it was tricky to find a truck large enough to transport the piece to the storage site.


The statue represented two figures emerging from a single mass, like two parts of just one body, born from a common ground, a metaphor of the rapprochement of the countries after many years of dispute over the mass killings of up to 1.5 million Armenian during the First World War. Armenia, as most of other nations, considers it as genocide, but it is refused to be acknowledged as such by Turkey: Ankara, in fact, claims that deaths occurred on both sides during a situation of civil war. Even if art critics from many States are saying that the destruction of the statue is not a great loss and the Huffington Post defined it as one of the "ugliest monument in the world", the question is much more related to politics than to art itself, according to the author of the project, the sculptor Mehmet Aksoy (Yayladağı, Turkey, 1939).

"I feel very bad as a sculptor because they are destroying art and the artist," Aksoy told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Istanbul. "They are destroying our hope for peace together with that monument. The authorities are saying that they want peace, but that is a game. They are lying,” he said. The artist claimed that Erdogan wants just to get more votes for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the elections that will be held in Turkey at the beginning of June. "This looked like a message to the nationalists - said Aksoy - they'll now say: 'See, Erdogan is good, he is a nationalist, let's vote for him'. I am really sorry, sorry on behalf of Turkey. They can demolish it, we will re-make it".


The demolition didn't go on in silence, because lots of Turkish people from the art world campaigned to save the monument. Two of them, the painter Bedri Baykam (Ankara, 1957) and his associate, Pyramid Art Gallery general coordinator Tugba Kurtulmus, were stabbed after a meeting with other artists at the Istanbul Akatlar cultural center. Turkish media reported that a man who claimed to be the aggressor turned himself to the police in Istanbul, showing to be not a nationalist but an Islamic fanatic. “The statue is very important for us, it gives an opportunity for dialogue with Armenian. I regret that there are such fanatics in our country who oppose progress - said Baykam to - we’ll do our best for the preservation of the statue. I am in hospital, but it doesn’t matter, the struggle will continue”.

curated by francesco amorosino


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