Two men have been arrested over an attempt to topple a statue of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in the Black Sea province of Samsun that symbolizes the beginning of the country’s war of independence, local media reported on Friday.
The statue, sculpted by Austrian artist Heinrich Krippel, was installed on the spot where Atatürk landed in Samsun, on May 19, 1919, as part of efforts to organize a national resistance against a post-World War I occupation by the Allied Powers.
The men, identified only by the initials B.F. and C.F., were arrested on Friday on charges of “publicly insulting the memory of Atatürk” after they tied a rope to the statue in an attempt to pull it down on Wednesday evening.
According to local media, they fled when the rope broke.
“I never loved Atatürk. I don’t have to,” the Sözcü daily quoted C.F. as saying in his police statement after the two men, who are cousins, were taken into custody on Thursday.
“When the rope broke we left. I’m not sorry [for what I did], but if you ask me if I’d do it again, I would not,” he also said.
The first remarks condemning the attempt by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came from its spokesperson, Ömer Çelik, who said: “Atatürk is an exceptional treasure for our nation as the commander-in-chief in our war of independence … and our first president. We won’t allow any disrespect or provocation targeting his memory.”
“A dark hand is attempting provocations as it did in the past,” Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop said about the attack.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Friday said during a live program on TV100 that the attempt to pull down the statue was an effort to change the country’s real agenda, which is high inflation decimating Turks’ purchasing power.
According to official data, Turkey’s annual inflation jumped more than expected to 48.69 percent in January, a nearly two-decade high, fueled by a series of unorthodox interest rate cuts and a crash in the lira currency late last year.
Bar associations in 68 provinces, including İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir and Samsun, on Friday released a joint statement condemning the attack on Atatürk’s statue and vowing to closely follow the legal proceedings faced by the two men to make sure they “receive the heavy punishment they deserve.”
Hundreds of residents of Samsun on Thursday gathered around the statue, protesting the attempt to pull it down and stood guard all night. They sang Turkey’s national anthem, İstiklal Marşı, as well as other patriotic songs, according to Turkish media reports.
Meanwhile, a monument in the Uzunköprü district of Edirne province was torched in the early hours of Friday.
Şefik Çelik, one of the two suspects who were detained after the incident, was arrested by a court on Friday, local media reports said.