ISTANBUL—A man was arrested Monday in connection with the stabbing of prominent Turkish artist Bedri Baykam, after he spoke out in defense of sculpture symbolizing peace between Turkey and Armenia which is currently being demolished, local media reported.
Baykam, 53, and his assistant were both stabbed in the abdomen in broad daylight as they left an artists’ meeting. Both were in stable condition later at an Istanbul hospital.
A prolific painter and multimedia artist, Baykam is a prominent fixture in Turkey’s contemporary arts scene and is known internationally.
The artist, who is also a newspaper columnist known for his outspoken political views, had strongly criticized the demolition of the “Monument to Humanity” in the city of Kars, a city in eastern Turkey near the border with Armenia.
Built by sculptor Mehmet Aksoy as a friendship monument to promote Turkish and Armenian reconciliation, the sculpture became the subject of political controversy after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Kars earlier this year.
Erdogan called the sculpture—which consists of two 30-meter-high concrete figures—a “freak” and said it was not in keeping with the historical fabric of the city.
Kars’ municipal assembly later voted to tear down the sculpture, saying it had been erected illegally in a protected area.
The monument’s demolition, which began over the weekend, is opposed by artists and civil society groups who say nationalism, not historical preservation, lies behind the decision to take it down.
At Monday’s meeting, Aksoy called for a march to the “Monument to Humanity” on April 23 in protest of its destruction.
“We are here to prevent an artistic massacre,” Baykam was quoted by private broadcaster NTV as saying at the artists’ meeting.
“If this sculpture is torn down, the whole world will hear of this as Turkey’s ‘Buddha assault’, after the destruction of the Buddha monuments by the Taliban,” Baykam said, referring to the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
Nothing was yet known about the suspected attacker or his motives, but footage from security cameras at the scene of the crime showed that the man had waited half an hour for Baykam to appear, indicating that the attack was premeditated.