A prominent Turkish artist was stabbed in Istanbul on Monday following a meeting that planned a protest against the demolition of monument meant to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.
News reports said Bedri Baykam and his secretary were attacked by an unidentified
man as they came out of a conference hall in downtown Istanbul. Both were operated on in hospital but their injuries were not life-threatening, the AFP news agency reported, citing the NTV news channel.
According to the Associated Press, television footage showed Baykam, 54, walking around frantically and pleading for help before a woman hailed a taxi that took him to a hospital. His assistant, Tugba Kurtulus, was seen lying on the ground at a car park, surrounded by people trying to help her. The unidentified knife-wielding attacker escaped.
Police were investigating whether the attack was linked to the controversy surrounding the monument located in the northeastern Turkish city of Kars, just 50 kilometers from the Armenian border.
The 30-meter (100-foot) concrete statue depicts two figures emerging from one human shape and symbolizing the pain of division.
Visiting Kars in January, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the monument as a “monstrosity” that overshadows a nearby Islamic shrine. He ordered the Kars mayor, a member of his ruling Justice and Development Party, to replace it with a park.
The move, which was approved by the Kars municipal council in February, has prompted strong criticism from some opponents of Erdogan’s government.
Shortly before Monday's attack, Baykam spoke at a gathering called to denounce the impending demolition. “We are here to prevent something like a murder. ... We are here to prevent an artistic massacre,” “Hurriyet” newspaper's website quoted him as saying.
Artists such as Baykam are planning a protest march Saturday in defense of the unfinished monument. Turkish authorities this week reportedly put up scaffolding around the monument to take it apart piece by piece.
Armenia also criticized Erdogan’s order in January, with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian saying that its execution could deal a further blow to the normalization of relations between the two estranged nations.