The Monument to Humanity’s two-stone figures were effectively decapitated after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the structure a “freak” (ucube, in Turkish) during a January visit to Kars.
According to its sculptor, Mehmet Aksoy, he created the monument to acknowledge the pain rooted in the division between Turkey and Armenia, and to promote peace, brotherhood, and rapprochement between the two countries.
The two figures—meant to be one—stood face-to-face, with one extending a hand to the other.
The demolition began on April 26—though it had been scheduled for the 25th, while Armenians worldwide commemorated the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
In the presence of riot police, the heads of the statues were dismounted and trucked away.
Thus, a conciliatory symbol has itself become a target of intolerance—a fate Aksoy has likened to the destruction of Buddhist relics by the Taliban.
Chasing ‘ucube’ out of town
Meanwhile, in Eskisehir’s Tepebasi municipality, dozens of artists contributed their art to an exhibition titled “Ucube-Ebucu,” which opened on April 9. (“ebucu” is ucube read backward.) At the opening were Aksoy, Kars Mayor Ahmet Atac from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and former Culture Minister Ercan Karakas. The exhibition featured works that caused a stir in conservative segments. Its organizers were forced to terminate the exhibit earlier than planned, after some of the works, like a painting by Menekse Samanci, were deemed offensive for “insulting religious values.”
In the painting, Samanci depicts a mosque, its minarets replaced by the figures comprising the Monument to Humanity. Between the two figures, and over the dome of the mosque, the artist has drawn three strings holding up lights that spell “UCUBE.” According to news reports, Samanci argued her work was a criticism of those who used religion to suit their agendas, rather than an attack on Islam. Two paintings, including Samanci’s, are now subject to an investigation by Eskisehir prosecutor Erdogan Yildirim.
The mosque in Samanci’s painting is the Suleymaniye Mosque, whose architect Mimar Sinan (1490-1588) is believed to be an Armenian (or Greek, by some accounts). The replacement of the minarets with the two figures may be interpreted as a powerful statement on the use of religious rhetoric as either a unifying force or a destructive weapon.
The last days of ‘Ucube’
In a Jan. 8 visit to Kars, Erdogan fueled a debate on the future of the monument when he declared it a “freak” and “abomination,” and called for its demolition and replacement with “a beautiful park.”
“They have placed an abomination next to the Mausoleum of Hasan Harakani. They erected a strange thing,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.
Authorities also claimed the statue lacked a zoning permit, and that it stood on a historic 16th-century military site.
In late January, the Kars Municipal Assembly decided to demolish the monument.
A week before the demolition was to begin, Bedri Baykam, a Turkish artist, and his assistant, Tugba Kurtulmus, were stabbed in the abdomen following a meeting where Baykam called for a march and protest on April 23.
Kars’s former mayor, Naif Alibeyoglu, a man who actively sought to improve ties with neighboring Armenia, commissioned the work in 2006, and almost immediately faced a backlash.
Observers have noted that the large percentage of ethnic Azeris in the city opposed the construction of the statue, which may have played a part in sealing its fate.