Naif Alibeyoglu, a former mayor of Kars, Turkey, decided in 2006 to build a giant sculpture as a peace gesture from Turkey to Armenia. But opposition to the structure, led by Oktay Aktas, the local head of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), prevailed. “Why is one figure standing with its head bowed, as if ashamed?” Aktas asked, despite the fact that both figures are standing entirely erect, implying that his native Turkey was submitting to Armenian powers. “Turkey has nothing to be ashamed of.” Aktas vowed to destroy the monument saying, “I said I would smash the statue down with my own hands, and I will.”
His vow turned out to be unnecessary, as his group was able to halt the building, and, as of 2010, the 100-foot-tall sculpture still sits unfinished, surrounded by wooden scaffolding, with no plans to ever be completed. A hand sits in the gravel at the base of the sculpture and is the most photographed piece here, as it seems to represent the continuing struggle between the two countries. Called the “Hand of Friendship,” the hand was meant to join the two human figures once completed.
Turkey’s border with Armenia was closed in 1993 when Turkey broke off diplomatic ties, backing Azerbaijan in a dispute over a piece of land between the two countries at the time. Since, the two countries have continued to trade with each other, and their foreign ministers meet with some regularity. Divided for generations by a dispute over genocide in the early 20th century, relations between Turkey and Armenia have always been difficult.
It looks like the “Hand of Friendship” may remain empty for quite some time.