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Controversy Over “Friendship Statue” in City of Kars, Turkey

Armen Melidonian
Staff Writer

Turkish-Armenian Friendship State in Kars, Turkey. Photo: ASP Archive
Turkish-Armenian Friendship State in Kars, Turkey.
Photo: ASP Archive

The City Council of Kars has decided that the Turkish-Armenian Friendship Statue in the Kars Province of Turkey, whose existence was subject to political debate, will be demolished. The statue is of a human figure divided in two, with each facing one another and one extending its arm to the other. Currently unfinished, it is 100-feet tall, and the method of going about its pending demolition remains in question.

It has just been reported that a Turkish court has temporarily blocked controversial government plans to demolish the monument, meant to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

Joost Lagendijk, a former member of the European Parliament, explained in his article “Different Reasons to Visit Kars” that in his meeting with Naif Alibeyoglu, then mayor of Kars in 2005, Alibeyoglu “made a strong argument in favor of opening the closed border between Turkey and Armenia,” to help revitalize Kars and the surrounding regions. Lagendijk noted that the scale model of a monument Alibeyoglu had in mind at the time was too “militaristic and bombastic,” and recommended Turkish sculptor, Mehmet Aksoy.

A year later, Lagendijk met with Aksoy, who had proposed a scale model of the “Statue of Humanity” and was already well into building it. Aksoy stated that the hand in the divided figure symbolizes hope of reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. The Erzurum Cultural and Natural Heritage Protection Committee allowed the project in 2006 despite objections from the local branch of the National Movement Party.

The statue was brought to national attention in Turkey when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Kars on January 8 of this year. Erdogan was quoted in the Hurriyet newspaper as saying that, “they have placed an abomination next to the Mausoleum of Hasan Harakani. They erected a strange thing.” He called instead for a park to be built in its place. Turkey’s culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay, the following day stated that the issue is not with the artist’s message, but that “there has been a controversy over the location of it for several years.” Authorities claim that the statue is located on a historical 16th century military site. Erdogan mentioned a few days later during a visit to Qatar that it was a conflict with the Cultural Board over what should be seen as “a work of art.” Mehmet Aksoy responded by likening the demolition of the statue to the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist relics in Afghanistan in 2001.

The man who led opposition to the statue was the local leader of the National Movement Party Oktay Aktas, an ethnic Azeri. Azeris in Kars make up 20 percent of the city. Former Mayor Alibeyoglu commented at a meeting with students of the Department of Journalism at Marmara University that although “the arguments to tear down the monument vary,” the decision to demolish the statue was made at Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s request because “Turkey has an oil and gas dependence on Azerbaijan. This is the only reason for demolition.” Azerbaijan is at odds over the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, and has repeatedly voiced its concerns and opposition to Turkey’s efforts in normalization with Armenia.