KARS, Turkey (Combined Sources)–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the destruction of a giant monument to friendship between Turkey and Armenia, reports from Ankara said on Monday, RFE/RL reported.
The 30-meter (100-foot) unfinished concrete statue, located in the northeastern Turkish city of Kars close to the Armenian border, was commissioned in 2006 to promote dialogue and reconciliation between the two countries. It depicts two figures emerging from one human shape and symbolizing the pain of division.
Visiting Kars on Sunday, Erdogan reportedly described the monument as a “monstrosity” that overshadows a nearby Islamic shrine. The AFP news agency cited Turkish media as saying that he ordered the Kars mayor, a member of his ruling Justice and Development Party, to replace it with a park.
It was not clear if Erdogan referred to Kars’s 10th century Armenian church of Surp Arakelots (Holy Apostles). It was converted into a mosque after the city and the surrounding region was cleansed of its Armenian population during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and captured from a short-lived independent Armenian republic and incorporated into modern-day Turkey in 1920.
Opponents of Erdogan’s Islamic rooted government were critical of his comments, with former culture minister Ercan Karakas saying that they are a “shame” and that “the sculpture is neither strange nor ugly,” according to AFP.
The former Mayor of Kars, Naif Alibeyoglu, under whose administration the statue was erected, described Erdogan’s statements as “monstrous” in an interview with NTV television in which he sought to justify the building of the statue.
“We sought to erect a monument to humanity. We have attempted to send a message of humanity to this militant world, having lost human values,” said Alibeyoglu, who has been a supporter of the unconditional normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. “We built this monument as counterbalance to genocide monuments in Armenia and Igdir, as monuments to genocide fueled vendetta between the two nations.”
The statue’s sculptor, Mehmet Aksoy, defended his work, saying on NTV that its destruction would recall the demolition by the Taliban of ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley in 2001 that stunned the world.
“What explanation will be given to the world if the monument to humanity and peace is ruined?” Askol said. “Erdogan will become the first prime minister, who will destroy a monument to peace.”
Turkey’s Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that a decision about the monument’s fate will be made in consultation with the artist. Gunay noted that it was placed on a historic site of war.