Looming on a hilltop overlooking the eastern Turkish city of Kars, the Monument to Humanity seems like a perfect symbol for the on-going Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.
Two countries moving to put past enmities behind them represented in thirty meters of concrete: two figures standing face to face, on the verge of shaking hands.
Rapprochement was certainly the aim of the man who dreamed the statue up, former Kars mayor Naif Alibeyoglu. First elected in 1999, he invited Azeri and Armenian artists to Kars, signed sister city agreements across the region, and campaigned in 2005 to end a 16-year Turkish embargo on Armenia.
"The statue was my call for peace," Alibeyoglu says. "Prejudices on both sides are deep, because neither side knows the other. We needed to break the ice."
That is exactly what Ankara and Yerevan are now trying to do. Signed this October 10, two protocols put forward a gradual plan for the normalization of relations. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The protocols foresee full diplomatic relations, the re-opening of the border, and the setting up of bilateral commissions on issues ranging from taxes to what drafters call "the historic dimension." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The protocols now have to be ratified by both countries' parliaments for the peace process to move forward. Judging by the fate of Naif Alibeyoglu's monument, the road ahead will be anything but easy.
From its inception in 2006, the statue has encountered stiff local opposition. Some objected to its original name -- a Monument to Peace. Others disapproved of architect Mehmet Aksoy's plans to have water running like tears down the front of both figures to merge in a pool at their feet.
"People were asking which one represented Turkey and which one Armenia," Aksoy remembers. "That is pure ignorance: this is a monument against all wars, not one specific one."
The man who led opposition to the statue, local head of the Nationalist Action Party Oktay Aktas remains skeptical about the project. "Why is one figure standing with its head bowed, as if ashamed", he asks. "Turkey has nothing to be ashamed of."
In fact, the two figures are standing straight. But Aktas, an ethnic Azeri like roughly 20 percent of Kars' population, insists the monument is "an Armenian statue" representing Armenia reaching out to embrace eastern Turkish lands that had a large Armenian minority until 1915. "I said I would smash the statue down with my own hands, and I will," he adds.
He may not have to. Last November, responding to his petition, Turkey's Commission for Monuments fastened on the fact that Alibeyoglu had built a viewing platform underneath the statue without planning permission and ordered it, and the monument, to be demolished.
Its fate now lies with Turkey's Ministry of Culture.
Today, it stands unfinished. Its three-meter high hand, supposed to join the two figures, was never attached. It lies fingers up in the gravel in front. "The decision was 100 per cent political," says Kars-based architect Ali Ihsan Alinak. "It was the same commission that gave permission for the statue to be built in the first place."
But it wasn't just local nationalists like Oktay Aktas that Alibeyoglu managed to upset. A relatively recent convert to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, the former mayor's enthusiastic efforts to improve Kars' relations with its natural hinterland in the Caucasus appear to have unnerved his political masters too.
He was shunted out of the party in the run up to municipal elections this May. Many in Kars say the consulate Azerbaijan opened in the town in 2004 played an active role in his downfall.
The extreme sensitivity of the Armenian issue has marked Turkish politics since the rapprochement got under way following the Turkish President Abdullah Gul's visit to Armenia last September. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Hopes the protocol would be pushed through quickly were dealt a blow this May when Turkey's prime minister said signing was dependent on a solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Roughly 15 percent of Azerbaijan's land has been under Armenian occupation since the early 1990s.
Turkey now is fudging that condition. But Turks' natural sympathy for Azerbaijan remains strong. Some analysts think it could even cause splits inside the AKP, a coalition of former Islamists, center-right politicians and nationalists which has enough seats in parliament to ratify the protocol in the face of opposition from secularist and nationalist parties.
"This is a very emotional issue," agrees Suat Kiniklioglu, the AKP's deputy chairman of external affairs. "What needs to be underlined ... are the improvements a stable southern Caucasus could bring to Turkey's European [Union] bid, to its international stature and legitimacy."
In Kars, a town whose economy has been hit by the closure of the Armenian border just 40 kilometers away, the AKP mayor who has taken over from Naif Alibeyoglu, Nevzat Bozkus, is confident his party chiefs will steer the protocol through parliament without mishaps.
Alibeyoglu is less optimistic. "Small-minded people blocked the monument and they will block the peace process too," he says. "You wait and see, it will end up like my statue: a statue without hands."
Nicolas Birch specializes in Turkey, Iran and the Middle East.