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Statue of Greek Philosopher Diogenes Causes Controversy in Turkey

Diogenes statue turkey
The statue of ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes searching for an honest man that caused controversy in Turkey. Credit: Michael F. Schonitzer/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0

A statue dedicated to the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes in Sinope, Turkey, the city of his birth, stirred controversy in the country for a surprising reason.

By Dimosthenes Vasiloudis

The Statue of Diogenes (Turkish: Diyojen Heykeli) is a monument dedicated to the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes in Sinope, Turkey.

The ancient Greek philosopher was also known as Diogenes the Cynic, or Diogenes of Sinope (Pontic Greek: Diogenes o Sinopeas), and he was born in Sinope, an Ionian colony on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia (Asia Minor) at around 412 BC.

The municipality of present-day Sinope decided to erect a statue of Diogenes in 2006. The sculpture was crafted by Turan Baş, a Fine Arts Department Lecturer at the Ondokuz Mayıs University in Samsun, historically known as Sampsounta.

The sculpture of Diogenes is located in the center of the narrowest point of the isthmus of the Sinope Peninsula between Sinop and the mainland at the entrance of the city. Νearby points of interest are also Sinope’s Historic Prison, Sinope’s Castle, and Aladdin Mosque.

Measuring 5.50 meters high, it depicts Diogenes the Cynic standing with his dog in the large barrel in which he lived. The ancient Greek philosopher is also shown with his famous lamp in hand, used to “search for a virtuous/honest man,” as he claimed.

Statue of Diogenes stirs controversy in Turkey

After the statue was erected, numerous radical nationalist politicians in Turkey criticized the event symbolized by the statue and claimed that Diogenes’ search for honest people was an insult to the people of Sinop.

However, this was said by Diogenes not in modern Sinope but in ancient Athens, and his philosophical discourse was, of course, purely contemplative.

In 2017, protests took place by Turks who are ideologically close to the Turkish radical Islamic neo-Ottomanism for the removal of the statue, as they claim that it insidiously connects the “Greek ideology” with the people and city of Sinope.

The demands of the conservative “Erbakan” Religious Foundation were also accompanied by the proposal to transfer the statue from the central point where it stands today to the old, abandoned Byzantine church of the Assumption of Mary located in the city (known as Balatlar).

In a statement made at the entrance to the city in front of the statue of the Greek thinker, Ismail Tezic, a spokesman for the Erbakan Foundation, said:

“We are not against art and statues. However, we are opposed to those who try to stick the label of Greek philosophy and ideology in Sinope. We ask that the statue be removed from the entrance of Sinope and be transferred to the Balatlar building. We will try to make that happen. If necessary, we will collect signatures and we will constantly make press releases here…we will fight until the end.”

On the other hand, when the statue became the symbol of Sinope in 2006, the city’s mayor, Zeki Yılmazer, stated that the famous philosopher was very important for the promotion of the city.

“I think the fact that Diogenes was born in Sinope brings positive privileges to our city and our country. We are happy to bring such a statue to our city. Of course, there are some opponents,” said Yılmazer, adding that “Whether he is Greek or from another nationality, it is important for us that he was born in this city.”

Yılmazer pointed out that Diogenes’ “reply to Alexander the Great ‘Don’t stand between me and the sun, I don’t want any other benevolence,’ is something that has gone down in history worldwide.”

Life and philosophy of Diogenes

Diogenes was one of the founders of Cynic philosophy. He was a controversial figure in ancient Greece.

No writings of Diogenes survive even though he is reported to have authored over ten books, a volume of letters, and seven tragedies.

There are not many sources about the first years of Diogenes’ life in Sinop, except that his father Hicesias was a jeweler and mint master. It is known that his father and Diogenes were exiled to Athens and banished from Sinope for debasement of currency.

In Athens, Diogenes criticized many cultural conventions of the city and its social values as corrupt.

According to his simple ascetic lifestyle, wisdom and happiness belong to the man who is independent of society and civilization is regressive. He believed that virtue was best revealed in action rather than in theory.

Diogenes maintained that all artificial growths of society were incompatible with happiness and that morality implies a return to the simplicity of nature.

Furthermore, he is said to have eaten in the marketplace, relieved himself on various people who insulted him, defecated in the theatre, and pleasured himself in public, as well as pointed with his middle finger at people, a gesture considered highly insulting.

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