Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Late Statue of Humanity

Let me start with the Statue of Humanity (source). I am able to capture its image as it existed in 2011, shortly before it was demolished. If the statue itself could be made to disappear, so might images of it if Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, decides on erasing them.

The Statue stood outside of the Turkish city of Kars. The city is located near where the border between Turkey and Armenia runs, close enough so that, standing where once the Statue stood, one could see Armenia in the distance if powerful binoculars are handy. Why had this Statue been built? It had been intended to commemorate an uneasy peace formed between Turkey and Armenia in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1916); in that genocide at least 600,000 Armenians were killed by Turkish troops in an action weirdly reminiscent of recent events on the border of Syria. Meaning: is a Kurdish Genocide now to be anticipated? The next question? Why had this Statue been taken down? Well, Erdogan, then still only a Prime Minister, had seen the Statue on one of his trips in 2011; he had expressed a strong dislike of it, calling it a freak. Despite local opposition, the City of Kars had then begun its disassembly, removing the heads first. So there is a link between the genocide, back when, and the possibility of another genocide, in the future. That link is Erdogan.

Finally, concerning the Statue, its designer was the sculptor Mehmet Aksoy (1939-); he got his commission in 2009; he was still laboring on the work in 2011 when the men with the crane and front-end loaders to take it down again arrived.

Not that there is a bigger picture than Humanity, but there is an historical big picture here, best represented by a map. The picture is that the collapse of great social structures, such as the Ottoman Empire, leaves behind troublesome echoes for years, sometimes even for centuries. The Ottomans ruled from Turkey. Under their governance, the many peoples they oversaw included the Armenians to the east. Armenia is a thinnish wedge of land between Turkey and Azerbaijan. And the part of Turkey that Armenia adjoins is what is still referred to, at least by Kurds, as Kurdistan. The map I show will reveal the situation (source).

The lightly-colored region is labeled Kurdish-inhabited. Thus the Kurds inhabit parts of Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria—going clockwise. The map also shows Armenia, of course. The Armenians irritated Turkey in the early 1900s by being friendly with Russia. Ah! There is Russia, too, in this great ethnic mix.

Problems, problems, problems. Back in the good-old days (but don’t look too closely), the Ottomans kept the peace all around inside their domain of rule. My late guru, the historian Arnold Toynbee, explained that situation by saying that the Ottomans regarded the peoples they ruled as species of stock—cattle, horses, sheep, and such. It was best to keep the various stocks from fighting and profit from their use or sale. But the Ottomans didn’t last. Nor, for that matter, to name another large domain, did the Soviets. Hence we now have “residual” problems in the Ukraine too. All kinds of problems. In human history, bigness usually spells peace; breakup causes chaos. Perhaps we should replace the Statue of Humanity by renaming the Gobi Desert The Pasture of Humanity. But is the Gobi big enough?

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