Erdoğan Calls Monument of Turkish-Armenian Relations a “Monstrosity”

Turkish sculptor Mehmet Aksoy is no stranger to provoking conflict over his works of art. He has had politicians in his country disapprove of his work, such as the mayor of Ankara who took down Aksoy’s sculpture “At the Country of Fairies”, and said, “If this is art, I’d spit on it”. Most controversial was perhaps his large sculpture called Monument to Humanity, which symbolized friendship between Turkey and Armenia. The monument with a height of 35 metres was located on a hill overlooking Kars, close to the Armenian border. It was a giant piece commissioned in 2006 by the Kars municipality at a time when the AKP government was attempting to make amends through diplomatic relations with Armenia’s government. The sculpture itself depicts two human figures facing each other, with the one that is meant to represent Turkey holding its hand out to the other figure which represented Armenia.

The trouble with this particular work is multifaceted because of the reaction it received from President Erdoğan as well as because of the subject matter of the work. When visiting Kars in 2011, Erdoğan went to see the statues and called them a “monstrosity”, which caused a public outcry, and the municipality then demolished the statues. Aksoy took the case to court, suing Erdoğan for $3,800 for insulting Monument to Humanity, with the judge ruling in Aksoy’s favour. While this is a positive outcome for the artist, it is too late for the remains of the structure that lay in waste where the sculpture once stood.

The other side of this controversial piece concerns the Armenian genocide of 1915, which to this day is a taboo subject in Turkish politics and daily life. Although the monument isn’t explicitly about the issue, and rather just seeks to promote peaceful relations between the countries, all socio-political issues between Turkey and Armenia are haunted by the genocide. In this historical atrocity, approximately 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were killed and many more forcibly removed from the country. The Turkish government still does not acknowledge the significance of this event to this day, and it is currently illegal to discuss the genocide in Turkey. Denial of it ever happening is not uncommon amongst civilians, and there is typically a sense of unease when the topic is ever brought up to discussion.

Aksoy’s Monument to Humanity brings awareness of a contentious history between two countries in which one expelled the other’s people in a violent and undignified manner. Although this occurred more than five years ago, the demolition of this sculpture perhaps represents a government and society that is still, in 2017, not ready to appreciate such art, especially one that deals with the country’s dark past.

Featured Image: Monument to Humanity by Mehmet Aksoy in Kars, Turkey from Wikimedia Commons.