London Graffiti Inflames Turkish-Kurdish Tensions

A new piece that many say is by the famous street artist Banksy is provoking Turks and Kurds in the U.K.

Graffiti in London depicting the Turkish president and his son, Bilal. — TWITTER/Carlito1907
Oct 15, 2015 at 7:02 AM ET

Turks and Kurds are battling over street art in a northern London neighborhood, engaging in a vicious cycle of defacement and restoration.

The contested piece shows Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan hauling a tremendous sack full of cash, tailed by his son, Bilal, scraping up bills that fell in the overflow. In February, an audio recording posted to social media claimed to reveal Erdogan and Bilal discussing how to hide tons of money.

The graffiti was first spotted on Tuesday in North London’s busy Harringay neighborhood, on the wall of a local railway station. A day later, supporters of Erdogan splashed yellow paint on the wall, hiding the president’s and his son’s faces, according to witnesses posting to social media.

Many online say the piece is by the street artist Banksy, although the claims were not independently verified.

Local Kurds then restored the piece, removing the yellow paint in a sign of opposition to Erdogan, who has slammed the audio recording about hiding cash as a fabrication.

By early Wednesday morning, the piece was messed up again, covered almost entirely in white, according to pictures posted to Twitter.

The conflict seemed to propel Banksy in the Turkish twittersphere, and local media buzzed with reports about the embattled graffiti.

Violence between Turks and Kurds has escalated in recent months after decades of ongoing conflict that dates to 1984, when the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), started an armed struggle against Turkey’s government. A subsequent ceasefire that went into effect two years ago broke down in July, when the PKK blamed Turkish authorities for failing to prevent an attack in Suruc that killed at least 30 people.

Last week, tensions climbed when a terror attack at a pro-Kurdish rally in the Turkish capital killed as many as 128 people.

This article has been edited to reflect that the work has not yet been verified as a Banksy original.