Armenia is the capital of the Quindio Department in Colombia. A mural has recently appeared near the city council building, depicting a man in a Turkish costume from the Ottoman Empire period. This image, which has nothing to do with the history of the city, caused outrage among residents.
The mural appeared after the mayor of the city decided to establish cultural ties with Turkey and then visited Turkey together with several members of the city council. The trip took place at the invitation of the Erdogan administration, where participants were presented with the “other side” of the Armenian Genocide. Although nothing connects the Colombian city with the Republic of Armenia, the local council formally recognizes the Armenian Genocide, which Colombia and Turkey have not done yet.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes that the discoverers of America long before Columbus had been Muslim travelers and that the merit of the Islamic world in expanding the map of Eurasia should be recognized. For this reason, the president is investing in Turkish cultural centers that are opening in the friendly countries of the region.
For several years, Erdogan wanted (and tried) to open a mosque in Cuba, but the communist government rejected proposals to build a religious center. Then, Erdogan switched his aspirations to Venezuela whose president Maduro was more supportive of his idea.
Of course, the Turkish government has never openly linked these convictions of Erdogan with the establishment of relations with the city of Armenia in Colombia.
One of the local newspapers reported recently that the townspeople were confused and even outraged by the expensive mural, which, from their point of view, is in no way connected with the history of Colombian Armenia and its heritage.
“I don’t quite understand how Armenia is related to Turkey. I think that they [the city authorities] this way simply repaid for their small trip [to Turkey],” said a resident of Armenia, referring to the trip of the mayor and members of the city council to Turkey.
“We, the residents of Quindio, are puzzled and do not understand how this sultan [on the mural] is associated with our city. What’s happening? Please let serious politicians manage the city. It’s just terrible for our capital,” said another resident of the city.
The head of the city council, in turn, noted that the mural is part of a cultural exchange with Turkey, which is intended to work bilaterally in the format of business and tourism projects.
The newspaper El Tiempo writes that the council is discussing not only various kinds of cultural “favors” to Turkey but also changes in the declaration of 2014 which refers to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire.
At least one of the city council members, Luis Guillermo Agudelo, expressed outrage at the colleagues’ trip to Turkey, calling it “unimportant” and “not benefiting the city.”
“Regardless of whether the Turkish government has carried out the Armenian Genocide or it has been caused by WWI, all these debates will not do any good to the city,” said Agudelo.
In an interview with El Tiempo, he called the Turkish mural “an absurdity”: “It is located on a public building which used to house a gallery, and now, the building’s ‘identity’ is changed.”
Perhaps Turkey’s interest in Colombia “spilled over” from Venezuela, where in 2017, Erdogan announced the construction of a mosque and a Turkish cultural center in Caracas.