Turkish-Armenian friendship statue supporter undaunted after Istanbul stabbing

Turkish-Armenian friendship statue supporter undaunted after Istanbul stabbing

Photo: www.wikipedia.org

Bedri Baykam

A prominent Turkish artist opposing the dismantling of a Turkish-Armenian friendship statue in Kars appears determined to continue his struggle for the preservation of the monument despite being knifed in Istanbul on Monday and currently remaining in hospital to have his stab wound treated.

Bedri Baykam, a well-known painter, says along with supporters will go ahead with the organization of a protest in the town situated near the border with modern-day Armenia.

On Monday Baykam and several dozen artists sharing his views on the monument organized a meeting at the Istanbul Akatlar cultural center to discuss matters pertaining to a march planned in Kars on April 23 to protest the decision to demolish the huge statue that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described as “freakish” earlier this year.

After leaving the meeting, Baykam and his associate, Pyramid Art Gallery general coordinator Tugba Kurtulmus were stabbed by a person who exclaimed during his act: “You are a traitor! There is only one God.”

In an interview with ArmeniaNow on Tuesday Baykam said the attack was clearly linked to his advocacy connected with the monument and generally his positive attitude towards Armenian-Turkish rapprochement.

“The statue is very important for us, it gives an opportunity for dialogue with Armenians. I regret that there are such fanatics in our country who oppose progress,” said Baykam, 54, who still had difficulty talking because of the stab wound. The artist’s doctor says he will have to stay in hospital and remain in intensive therapy for a week.

Turkish media reported earlier on Tuesday that a man who claimed to have stabbed Baykam turned himself in to police in Istanbul.

According to Baykam, the person who knifed him and his companion wasn’t much of a nationalist, but was “rather one of Islamist fanatics who are against any kind of development.”

The decision to dismantle the monument built in Kars in 2008 was made in January this year, shortly after the visiting Turkish prime minister called it “monstrous” and ordered its demolition.

In March the court sustained the suit of the Kars municipality regarding permission for dismantling the monument and despite various protests work to dismantle the huge monument began a few days ago. Special equipment had been brought to Kars from Istanbul and a total of nearly $200,000 had been allocated from the state budget for the purchase.

Still several months ago analysts described the dismantling of the statue as a step marking the end of the “football diplomacy” that began in 2008 with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s invitation of his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to Yerevan to watch a FIFA qualifier featuring the two countries’ national teams. The rapprochement effort continued with the signing of two protocols in October 2009, which, however, have never been ratified by the parliaments in either country, leading to a de-facto suspension of the process in April last year.

Meanwhile, a group of artists in Turkey are hopeful that their fight will yield results and that they will be able to save the symbolic monument.

“We’ll do our best for the preservation of the statue. I am in hospital, but it doesn’t matter, the struggle will continue,” Baykam emphasized.

Sculptor Mehmet Aksoy, who created the monument, is also dismayed at the decision and considers it as an insult.

“Of course, it is something terrible for me, but I still hope that it’ll stay,” Aksoy told ArmeniaNow in a phone interview.