Turks Demand Removal of Ancient Philosopher Statue to Fight ‘Greek Ideology’

Diogenes statue Sinop, Turkey
Panegyrics of Granovetter/Flickr
FRANCES MARTEL

A militant Islamist group has demanded Turkey remove a statue of the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes from a public square in Sinop, arguing that its presence promotes unseemly “Greek ideology.”

The demand follows attacks on multiple memorials to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the secular Republic of Turkey, by Islamists who see his vision as blasphemous to their religion.

The Erbakan Foundation, the group protesting Diogenes, made clear that it is not iconoclastic, but merely opposes the presence of any Greek culture in the Turkish public square. Much of Turkey was populated by Greeks, particularly the former capital of Constantinople, before the Muslim siege in 1453.

“We are not against arts and sculptures,” a representative for the group said according to Hurriyet. “We are against the fact that they are attaching Greek ideology to Sinop under the cover of the statue. We want the Diogenes statue to be taken from the entrance of Sinop and moved to Balatlar [a local Byzantine church]. We will put in effort for this. We will struggle to the end, whether a petition or a permanent press statement here is required.”

Sinop, a coastal town in Turkey’s north, is the birthplace of the philosopher, known also as Diogenes of Sinope. Diogenes helped establish the Cynic school of philosophy and was ultimately exiled from Sinop to Athens, where he developed a reputation for contempt and ill temper towards powerful men.

His belief that nothing done shamelessly in private deserved shame in public led to many anecdotes of Diogenes defecating and performing acts of indecency in public. Hurriyet notes that Diogenes also allegedly mocked Alexander the Great, sparing no powerful man of criticism.

The statue of Diogenes is not the first the Erbakan Foundation has opposed. In 2016, members and supporters of the group began harassing patrons of a museum in Istanbul, entering and chanting “allahu akbar” around a work of art they disapproved of: a sculpture of a woman in a revealing swimsuit with a painting on her stomach of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II sticking out his tongue. The artist responsible for the work eventually requested the museum take the piece out of its display, fearing its destruction at the hands of Islamists.

Huseyin Terzi, an official within the group, claimed that his supporters did not act in any disruptive way and did not intimidate the artists. “Our members explained to them that this is offensive to Abdulhamid Han and his people and, therefore, it should be not displayed,” he admitted. “A day after, we learned that the artist agreed to pull his work out of the fair, so the issue is closed for us.”

The Erbakan Foundation was founded in the name of Necmettin Erbakan, which the New York Times describes as the nation’s “first Islamist prime minister.” Erbakan’s tenure was marked by opposition to modern European society, support for the oppressive Shiite regime in Iraq, and a call for an Islamist regime in Turkey. The Turkish military, long perceived as a secular defender of the democratic order since the founding of the republic, forced Erbakan to step down. Erbakan, too, was born in Sinop.

The attack on Diogenes is not the first such demand for the removal of a secular monument in recent memory in the country. In the past month, attackers have attempted to destroy monuments to Atatürk himself in Turkey. In the beginning of the month, a man in southeast Siverek took a sickle to a statue of Atatürk while shouting “There is no idol worshipping in Islam!” Authorities claimed the man, identified as Mehmet Malbora, suffered from mental illness.

Two weeks later, police arrested another man, identified only as Mehmet Y., for taking down a bust of Atatürk located on an Istanbul school’s grounds. Police did not elaborate on who the man was or whether he claimed any specific reasons for attacking a monument to the nation’s founder.

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