Bedri Baykam

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Prominent Turkish Artist Attacked

A prominent Turkish artist was stabbed in Istanbul on Monday following a meeting that planned a protest against the demolition of monument meant to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

News reports said Bedri Baykam and his secretary were attacked by an unidentified man as they came out of a conference hall in downtown Istanbul. Both were operated on in hospital but their injuries were not life-threatening, the AFP news agency reported, citing the NTV news channel.

According to the Associated Press, television footage showed Baykam, 54, walking around frantically and pleading for help before a woman hailed a taxi that took him to a hospital. His assistant, Tugba Kurtulus, was seen lying on the ground at a car park, surrounded by people trying to help her. The unidentified knife-wielding attacker escaped.

Police were investigating whether the attack was linked to the controversy surrounding the monument located in the northeastern Turkish city of Kars, just 50 kilometers from the Armenian border.

The 30-meter (100-foot) concrete statue depicts two figures emerging from one human shape and symbolizing the pain of division.

Visiting Kars in January, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip 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.

The move, which was approved by the Kars municipal council in February, has prompted strong criticism from some opponents of Erdogan’s government.

Shortly before Monday's attack, Baykam spoke at a gathering called to denounce the impending demolition. “We are here to prevent something like a murder. ... We are here to prevent an artistic massacre,” “Hurriyet” newspaper's website quoted him as saying.

Artists such as Baykam are planning a protest march Saturday in defense of the unfinished monument. Turkish authorities this week reportedly put up scaffolding around the monument to take it apart piece by piece.

Armenia also criticized Erdogan’s order in January, with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian saying that its execution could deal a further blow to the normalization of relations between the two estranged nations.

Turkish Artist Vows To Fight On For Armenia Statue

19.04.2011 Karine Simonian

A prominent Turkish painter recovering from a stab wound on Tuesday pledged to continue to fight against the demolition of a controversial monument designed to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

Bedri Baykam and his secretary were stabbed on Monday as they came away from a meeting in downtown Istanbul that was called to denounce the impending demolition. They both were hospitalized.

The Turkish police arrested a man suspected of carrying out the attack later in the day. Little is known yet about the suspect and his motives.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service 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, our prime minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] wants to get rid of it.”

Visiting Kars in January, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip 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 the town close to the Armenian border this week reportedly put up scaffolding around the monument to take it apart piece by piece.

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

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’s Armenian service. “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 2001 destruction by the Taliban of ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley that stunned the world.