Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan embarrasses himself and his government just about every time he opens his mouth. His angry statements, often bewildering and insulting, give Turkey a black eye internationally and provide fresh ammunition to his domestic opponents.
A year ago, the prime minister threatened to deport 100,000 Armenians from Turkey, thereby reminding everyone around the world that Ankara’s present leaders are not much different from their bloodthirsty forefathers who deported and killed 1.5 million Armenians during the genocide of 1915-23. After he was roundly condemned at home and abroad, Erdogan explained that he had meant to deport only undocumented workers from Armenia. When told that the 100,000 figure included both native and foreign Armenians, the prime minister blamed his aides for giving him faulty population figures.
Erdogan made another faux pas early this month during a visit to Kars when he called for the demolition of a gigantic monument symbolizing “Armenia-Turkey friendship.” The 100-foot, 1,500-ton unfinished statue was commissioned by the city’s former mayor who believed that reconciliation and open borders with Armenia would boost his city’s sluggish economy. The monument depicted the figure of a man sliced into two, extending a hand of friendship to his other half. Calling the statue “freakish” or “grotesque,” the prime minister urged the new mayor to have the $1.5 million monument torn down before his next visit.
By calling the Kars monument an “ugly” work of art, Erdogan unleashed a torrent of criticism and triggered a chain of events that made him the laughing stock of the world:
- Erdogan’s political opponents accused him of pandering to the city’s Azeri voters who vehemently oppose any reconciliation with Armenia. They attributed his demolition order to crass electoral motives rather than to his artistic taste.
- Turkey’s culture minister tried to come to Erdogan’s rescue by claiming that the prime minister had called the surrounding shanty houses “freakish,” rather than the statue itself. Undeterred. Erdogan embarrassed his minister by rebuking him and repeating his earlier statement. Next, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc jumped into the fray by wishing that “God would spare him from finding himself in the same awkward situation as the culture minister.”
- Even Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s much-touted foreign minister, got into the act, vainly trying to make his prime minister look good. Davutoglu claimed that the real problem with the monument was that it “fails to blend into the Seljuk, Ottoman, and Russian character” of Kars. In a sarcastic retort, the Economist of London accused Davutoglu of conveniently erasing the city’s “Armenian legacy,” adding that “a long-abandoned tenth-century Armenian church recently reopened—as a mosque!”
- Mehmet Aksoy, the well-known sculptor of the monument, compared Erdogan’s order to the Taliban’s demolition of ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan. Aksoy warned that Turkey’s image would suffer terribly should the monument be blown up. He threatened to sue the prime minister for insulting his artwork.
- The international media excoriated Erdogan by ridiculing his artistic taste and exposing his crass political motives. The Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the Associated Press, Radio Free Europe, Reuters, BBC, the Washington Post, Liberation, and hundreds of other media outlets, condemned Erdogan’s destructive directive.
- Several Turkish journalists questioned the prime minister’s right and authority to have a statue removed and destroyed.
- Armenia’s foreign minister reacted indignantly to Erdogan’s statement and urged him to build a new foundation for normalizing bilateral relations, rather than damaging them. Most commentators interpreted the prime minister’s detrimental words as the last nail in the coffin of the unconsummated Armenia-Turkey protocols.
Not surprisingly, Mubariz Gurbanli, a member of Azerbaijan’s Parliament, expressed his pleasure with Erdogan’s order to demolish the “Armenia-Turkey friendship” statue. Gurbanli was correct in pointing out, “There is no need to erect a monument to the non-existent friendship with Armenia.”
Of course, tearing down monuments is nothing new for Azeri and Turkish officials. A few years ago, Azerbaijan demolished thousands of historic Armenian khatchkars (cross-stones) at a cemetery near Julfa, Nakhichevan, seeking to emulate the Turkish government’s wholesale destruction of hundreds of Armenian churches and monuments ever since the genocide. Indeed, Erdogan himself is continuing the age-old tradition of his predecessors in ordering the destruction of the Kars “friendship” statue.
If Davutoglu and Erdogan are truly sincere in promoting Armenian-Turkish friendship, they should promptly demolish the monstrous “genocide monument” built in Igdir in 1997, consisting of five 130-foot swords thrust towards the sky, intended to perpetuate the great lie about Armenians killing Turks!