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Wounded Turkish Artist Vows To Fight For Armenia Statue

Prominent Turkish artist Bedri Baykam, who is fighting the demolition of a controversial monument designed to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- A prominent Turkish painter recovering from a stab wound has pledged to continue fighting the demolition of a controversial monument designed to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Bedri Baykam and his secretary, Tugba Kurtulus, were stabbed by a man on April 18 as they left a meeting in downtown Istanbul that was called to denounce the impending dismantlement of the monument. They were both hospitalized.

The Turkish police arrested a man suspected of carrying out the attack later in the day. Little is known about the suspect and his motives as police have not given details.

Speaking to RFE/RL from his hospital bed, Baykam said the statue located in the northeastern town of Kars must be preserved because it is a rare symbol of dialogue between the two estranged nations.

"That's why we want to save it," he said. "Unfortunately, the Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] wants to get rid of it."

Visiting Kars in January, Erdogan described the monument as a "monstrosity" that overshadows a nearby Islamic shrine. He ordered the Kars mayor, a member of his ruling Justice and Development Party, to replace it with a park.

Authorities in Kars, which is close to the Armenian border, reportedly put up scaffolding around the monument this week to take it apart piece by piece.

Baykam confirmed that he and other Turkish artists plan to demonstrate in Kars on April 23 in defense of the unfinished monument. He said the protest will go ahead despite the attack on him and his assistant.

Baykam blamed the attack on "Islamic fanatics" who he said are opposed to Turkey's democratization.

The incident made headlines in the mainstream Turkish press but was surprisingly ignored by newspapers published by Turkey's Armenian community. One of them, the bilingual daily "Agos," said that it had little to do with Turkish-Armenian relations.

Bagrat Istukian, an "Agos" editor, described Baykam as a well-known "nationalist" who has never been sympathetic to Armenia and the Armenians.

"On the Armenian issue, he supports the official Turkish line," Istukian told RFE/RL. "The theme of Turkish-Armenian friendship was probably an order issued to him."

The editor suggested that Baykam's main motive is to show professional solidarity with the statue's sculptor, Mehmet Aksoy.

Aksoy has compared Erdogan's order with the Taliban's 2001 destruction of ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley, an act that stunned the world.