Monument of Humanity transformed into ruins of a political game
Art & Freedom in Turkey: A Case Study
When one thinks of art & freedom in Turkey, the demolition, in 2011, of the Monument of Humanity by the well-known Turkish artist Mehmet Aksoy immediately comes to mind. The monument previously commissioned to be built in Kars, a city near the Armenian border in northeast Turkey, had been demolished, before it had even been completed, in 2011 after the Prime Minister defined it as ‘freakish’ and called it an affront to a 11th shrine in the area.
Monument of Humanity as a gesture of reconciliation
Mehmet Aksoy, a well-known Turkish artist on whose life a documentary “The Luminous Sculptor: Mehmet Aksoy” had been financed by the Culture Ministry in 2010, was commissioned by the former mayor of Kars to create a public statute/monument as a gesture of reconciliation with Armenia after a century of hostility. The artist began working on his project which consisted of erecting on a mountain in Kars a statute of two human figures, more than 30m in height – so that it would be visible from the other side of the border – facing each other. When completed one of the figures would be extending a hand to the other as a gesture of friendship and reconciliation.
When does a public monument get subjected to political discrimination, how’s and why’s of discrimination
When the prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - who was nominated to receive the Steiger Award from Germany this year, but who did not receive it - visited the eastern province of Kars and saw the statute, still a work in process, called it “freakish”, employing a language that someone with some respect for the arts would never even consider. He further on claimed that the monument overshadowed the historical sites in the area; that it stood on a historic 16th century military site and that it would be replaced by a beautiful park.
All these ‘excuses’ however seemed to be invalidated by the fact that Aksoy was commissioned previously by the mayor who must have had taken into considerations all of these facts about the area. Also due to the fact that Kars has a history in censoring public sculptures; the sculpture of a goose that is an iconic Kars symbol was moved into storage by the orders of the new mayor from the ruling party AKP.So what remained ringing in the ears was rather the prime minister’s choice of a “beautiful” park over a “freakish” work of art…
An understanding of art takes years to build, but only seconds to shatter
Aksoy, whose public sculptures had also previously been subject to censorship (as in the case of four public sculptures, including one of a naked woman), concluded that “all ministries look at a single person’s orders” since the prime minister’s call for the sculpture’s demolition, a motion was passed to tear it down on grounds that it had ‘illegally’ (if that is somehow possible since the commissioning party had all legal authority) been erected in a protected area. Furthermore, the judges who wanted to halt the demolition’s execution got transferred to other places confirming Aksoy’s observation that “justice is also one-sided”.
Even though some small district in Central Anatolia as well as in İzmir asked that the statue be moved to theirs, the demolition began approximately a year ago in April 2011 and was completed in mid-June. The case has now been taken to the European Court of Human Rights and it raises many questions on the art and freedom issue in Turkey. The statue took the center stage of discussion for a while in the city of Kars which has a very low income per capita among other more violent centers of tension and it seems like the city still needs the missing hand of the statue reaching out to them even if in a metaphorical way…
* Images are taken from the artist's official website
On the video the young locals from Kars complain about the prime minister’s decision to tear down the monument of humanity claiming that there are many other problems which need attention such as the residencies for the student population…perhaps if the monument was completed it would also generate a boom in tourism for the city...