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A prominent Turkish painter recovering from a stab wound on Tuesday pledged to continue to fight against the demolition of a controversial monument designed to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.


Bedri Baykam and his secretary were stabbed on Monday as they came away from a meeting in downtown Istanbul that was called to denounce the impending demolition. They both were hospitalized.

The Turkish police arrested a man suspected of carrying out the attack later in the day. Little is known yet about the suspect and his motives.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service from his hospital bed, Baykam said the statue located in the northeastern town of Kars must be preserved because it is a rare symbol of dialogue between the two estranged nations.

“That’s why we want to save it,” he said. “Unfortunately, our prime minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] wants to get rid of it.”

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.

Authorities in the town close to the Armenian border this week reportedly put up scaffolding around the monument to take it apart piece by piece.

Baykam confirmed that he and other Turkish artists plan to demonstrate in Kars on Saturday in defense of the unfinished monument. He said the protest will go ahead despite the attack on him and his assistant, Tugba Kurtulus.

Turkey -- The unfinished statue of Peace and Brotherhood in Kars, 16Apr2010
Baykam blamed the attack on “Islamic fanatics” who he said are opposed to Turkey’s democratization.

The incident made headlines in the mainstream Turkish press but was surprisingly ignored by newspapers published by Turkey’s Armenian community. One of them, the bilingual daily “Agos,” said that it had little to do with Turkish-Armenian relations.

Bagrat Istukian, an “Agos” editor, described Baykam as a well-known “nationalist” who has never been sympathetic to Armenia and the Armenians. “On the Armenian issue, he supports the official Turkish line,” Istukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The theme of Turkish-Armenian friendship was probably an order issued to him.”

The editor suggested that Baykam’s main motive is to show professional solidarity with the statue’s sculptor, Mehmet Aksoy.

Aksoy has compared Erdogan’s order with the 2001 destruction by the Taliban of ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley that stunned the world.
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