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.
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 historic enemies. 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 were 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.
Its author, Turkish sculptor Mehmet Aksoy, defended his work, saying on NTV television its destruction would recall the demolition by the Taliban of ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley in 2001 that stunned the world.
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.