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Turkey demolishes Armenia peace statue

April 28, 2011 at 8:10 AM   |   Comments

KARS, Turkey, April 28 (UPI) -- Turkey has begun demolishing a statue meant to celebrate reconciliation with Armenia a few months after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced it as a "freak," in a sign that the peace process between both nations has hit a roadblock.

The 100-foot-high statue depicts two men facing each other, with one extending a hand to the other. It was erected on a hill in the Turkish city of Kars, near the Armenian border.

As Kars once was home to a large Armenian community, local authorities commissioned the statue a few years ago when Turkey and Armenia tried to reconcile after a conflict that dates back several decades.

Armenia has long accused Turkey of committing genocide against its population during the Ottoman Empire in the beginning of the 20th century. Ties are strained further over a recent territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally.

When the Turkish-Armenian peace process began to stall last year, Turkish nationalists and officials from Azerbaijan denounced the statue.

The most prominent critic was Erdogan, who during a visit to Kars in January called the so-called Statue of Humanity "a freak," adding it was an insult to a nearby shrine from the 11th century.

Artists tried to save the statue but failed. Preparations for the dismantling began April 24, the day Armenians usually remember the alleged genocide.

"I am really sorry, sorry on behalf of Turkey," the Anatolia news agency quoted the statue's sculptor Mehmet Aksoy as saying. "They can demolish it, we will remake it."

The conflict over the statue is the latest sign that the Turkish-Armenian peace process has come to a standstill.

Many Armenians -- mainly those living abroad -- are against normalizing relations because they are descendants of families that experienced the 1915-23 violence that killed up to 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.

Armenia has tried to convince European allies that genocide took place, a charge Turkey vehemently denies. Ankara describes the killing as a civil war, saying that people on both sides died.

In Turkey, people are also critical of Armenia's occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in neighboring Azerbaijan. In 1993 Ankara severed ties with Armenia when it fought a war with Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally.

In October 2009, the peace process had hit its high, when Turkey and Armenia after decades of conflict signed documents to re-establish ties and reopen the countries' mutual border. Yet disagreements over the ratification of the accords resulted in a stalemate that hasn't been resolved.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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