Turkish gov’t officials’ removal of Santa Claus statue in Antalya stirs debate

The removal of a statue of Santa Claus by Turkish government authorities during a construction work at Demre’s central square in the Mediterranean province of Antalya has stirred debate, wrote pro-government Hürriyet daily news on Thursday.

According to the report, the statue of Santa Claus, created by local sculptor Necdet Can, was first placed on the square back in 2008 on instructions from the General Directorate of Fine Arts. It was removed amid construction work one year ago, and despite the works being completed the statue has not returned to its place.

Muammer Karabulut, the head of the local Santa Claus Peace Council, blasted the apparent removal of the statue, saying “no artwork should not be kept in depots.” “We may not think that the work reflects an exact likeness of Santa Claus. But no artworks should be kept in storage,” he said.

The origins of Demre date back to the Lycian town of Myra, the home of Saint Nicholas of Myra, the historical man later developed into the figure of Santa Claus. The district was known as Kale until it was renamed in 2005. The region is popular with tourists today, particularly among Christian pilgrims who visit the tomb of Saint Nicholas near the church.

Karabulut said that anyone who is unhappy with the Santa Claus statue “should also demolish the Church of Saint Nicholas” in Demre, which dates back to the 6th century. “They are trying to turn Santa Claus into a symbolic religious Christian figure. That is why hiding the sculptures. They are keeping one of the sculptures in the depot and another one in the church,” he added.

Former Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay said the whereabouts of the sculpture was still unknown. “Construction works have been completed but the sculpture has disappeared from the center of Demre. We still don’t know where the statue is. It’s a huge loss for tourism. The public spent a considerable amount of money on the construction and relocation of the statue. Those who wasted such resources should be investigated,” Günay added.

Demre Municipality Mayor Süleyman Topçu, meanwhile, said the sculpture is not missing and is just being kept in a depot. “The statue has not disappeared. We will find a good place for it and then relocate it there. It is being held in the depot of the municipality right now. We have not yet determined where to put it but we will try to place it at an appropriate time,” Topçu added.

Hatred towards Christian minority groups in Turkey and xenophobic euphoria against Christians in general are being fueled in an unprecedented campaign led by Turkey’s rulers, especially the country’s authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a case study by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) revealed on August 2017.

Turkish president Erdoğan who often spews hate speech against Christians, particularly Vatican, continues to stigmatize millions of people in Turkey and around the world with his systematic and deliberate campaign of churning hostility against Christians. His propaganda machinery amplifies this hateful narrative and the mass media under Erdoğan’s control spread it further to a larger audience.

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