Symbol of Turkey-Armenia friendship could be scrapped

Recent file photo of the 'Statue of Humanity', Kars, Turkey
Image caption The unfinished sculpture has attracted a certain amount of controversy

Turkey is considering demolishing a giant peace sculpture being built near the border with Armenia.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the monument as grotesque and unworthy of being described as art.

It was commissioned as a gesture of reconciliation, as Turkey and Armenia began attempts to repair relations after a century of hostility.

But that process stalled last year and there have been a number of objections to the monument.

The work called the Statue of Humanity towers over the city of Kars - with two 30m-high sculptures representing a divided human.

It is the creation of well-known Turkish artist Mehmet Aksoy and, when finished, it would have one figure extending a hand to the other.

Kars once had a large Armenian community, which was annihilated in 1915 as part of mass killings which Armenians and many historians call a genocide.

Turkey rejects the term and says atrocities were committed on both sides in World War I.

In 2009 the two countries agreed to normalise relations and, in that spirit, the former mayor of Kars commissioned the sculpture.

'Something weird'

On a visit to Kars at the weekend, the prime minister reportedly described the monument as an affront to the nearby shrine of Hasan Harakani.

"They have put a freak near the shrine," Mr Erdogan was quoted as saying in Hurriyet newspaper. "They have erected something weird."

He reportedly urged the local mayor to knock down the statue and create a park in its place.

But Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay has been playing down the remarks.

Image caption It was hoped that the monument would help build bridges with Armenia

"We would not show any sign of disrespect against any artist or tear down and discard his work of art," Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said.

"The theme of the monument is correct, it gives the message of friendship. But there has been a controversy over the location of it for several years," he told reporters.

It is not just the location that has been controversial - the concrete sculpture has been criticised by some as ugly or as a waste of money.

And there has been opposition from right-wing nationalists, some of whom say the statue suggests that Turkey is apologetic towards Armenia.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Istanbul, says the nationalists have a strong following in the region, and in a year when Mr Erdogan faces a tough general election, attacking the statue probably makes good political sense.

The artist has defended his work, saying on NTV television that if it were destroyed it would be like the Taliban's demolition of ancient Buddhist statues in Bamiyan in 2001.

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