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A friendship statue sparks conflict

Turkey refuses the hand of friendship. Building walls against illegal immigration. The Kurdish Manifesto. Turkish equities down, but a growing influence in Iraq. A porn film leads to the sacking of three professors. And Turkey goes green, kind of.

Top News: High on a hill overlooking the city of Kars stands a friendship statue with enemies.Commissioned as a gesture of reconciliation,the giant sculpture being built near the border with Armenia has become a symbol for renewed hostilities between the two neighbors. After being described as a “freak” and unworthy of being described as art by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is debating whether or not to demolish the statue. The creation of well-known Turkish artist Mehmet Aksoy, the Statue of Humanity represents two 100-foot high figures, facing one another, with a hand of friendship held out between them. But while the statue is almost complete, the hands have never been attached. Now it looks like the two figures, much like the countries they represent, might remain locked in dispute.

At Turkey’s southern border with Greece another monument is being planned – although the intent is less than artistic. Faced with a rising tide of illegal immigration – mainly via Turkey – Athens plans to build a wall along a 12.5 kilometer stretch of its border with Turkey. Immigration experts estimate about 90 percent of all illegal migrants enter the European Union through Greece but the measures have sparked an outcry with pundits and politicians calling the fence project "inhuman and ineffective".

When it comes to the Kurds, Turkey has always tended towards intolerance. As Sebnem Arsu writes in the New York Times: “In a country that has often valued loyalty to the state above free speech, discussion of placing any distance between the Kurds and the state was tantamount to a prison sentence.” For the first time, however, the the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party published a manifesto on their website demanding “democratic autonomy” — and no one has been imprisoned. Since coming to power in 2002, the governing Justice and Development Party has released a number of Kurdish political prisoners and eased the ban on Kurdish language and culture. Their political overtures, however, have suffered from a lack of broad political consensus.

Once a vibrant, influential community, Turkey’s Greek population has — through a combination of war, riots and discrimination by the Turkish state — been almost entirely forced out of the country. The government now says it wants to build a better relationship with Turkey's minority groups. But how serious are they really?

Money: Investors, hot on the trail of new markets, have become increasingly keen on Turkey. Moves by policymakers to curb the flow of hot money into emerging markets like Turkey and China, though, have cooled their heals. While Turkish equities had been making solid strides throughout the Fall, December hit hard — Turkish equities were four out of the bottom five finds registered for sale in the U.K. "There is a feeling (Turkish authorities) are going to tighten at the long end in the not too distant future. With things like that knocking about, people have been taking their money away just in case Turkey was in for a slide," said Alex Tarver, investment director at HSBC Global Asset Management.

While the global åmarket is debating their level of confidence in Turkey, turbulent Iraq has signed on. From Erbil to Basra, Turkish influence is strong in sectors as wide-ranging as culture, education and business. Iraq, eager to strengthen its wobbly economic legs, sees Turkey as a gateway to Europe for its abundant gas and oil reserves. And Turkey, meanwhile, is more than willing to check Iran’s regional economic influence.

Elsewhere: Istanbul is a city where contradictions are a way of life. Islam and secularism. Headscarves and mini skirts. But a porn film made as a student’s dissertation project has shone a spotlight on the sometimes-tense relationship between the city’s conflicting natures. Directed by film student Deniz Oz, the film, which features sexually explicit scenes, has led to the sacking of three academics at Bilgi University, the closure of the school’s entire Communications Faculty and potential criminal charges.

Turkey is usually more about going forward than going green, but a long-pending renewable energy law was viewed as an important step in the right direction. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz has been a big proponent of the law, arguing that it would create jobs and encourage investment. Environmentalists, though, are complaining that the law is less of a step forward than a PR move, designed to give the impression of advancement without real change.