Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday condemned “reckless” and “highly offensive” comments made by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.
Erdogan, while campaigning for local elections, presented the attack as part of an assault on Turkey and Islam and warned anti-Muslim Australians would be “sent back in coffins” like their grandfathers at Gallipoli – a blood-drenched WWI battle.
More than 8,000 Australians died fighting Turkish forces at Gallipoli, which has a prominent place in the Australia’s collective memory.
“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians, and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.
“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn… I expect that to occur,” said Morrison, who also faces an election challenge in the coming weeks.
Erdogan on Tuesday again called on Western nations to tackle Islamophobia in their countries and ensure the safety of Muslim communities there in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.
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Morrison said Australians travelling to Turkey should exercise common sense and cautioned that travel advice for Turkey was under review.
“I will wait to see what the response is from the Turkish government before taking further action, but I can tell you that all options are on the table,” Morrison said.
In fiery remarks, Morrison accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – the father of modern state and a revered figure in the Turkey – to forge peace between the two countries.
A memorial at the battlefield carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets … after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
Morrison said: “Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these [Erdogan’s] comments are at odds with that spirit.”
Erdogan had already been sharply rebuked by New Zealand for his comments and for using gruesome video shot by the Christchurch mosque gunman as an election campaign prop.
New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters protested on Monday that such politicisation of the massacre “imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and it’s totally unfair”.
Peters is travelling to Turkey this week to raise concerns about Erdogan’s recent comments, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday, side-stepping questions from reporters about the controversary.
“I do not accept that we’ll see a long-term change in our relationship, it is so deeply entrenched. Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders have made pilgrimages in acknowledgment of what ties and binds our countries,” she said.
Three Turkish nationals were wounded in the rampage that killed 50 worshippers at two mosques in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday.
The accused gunman, a self-avowed white supremacist from Australia, livestreamed much of the attack and spread a manifesto on social media claiming it was a strike against Muslim “invaders”.
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The manifesto references Turkey and the minarets of Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia, now a museum, that was once a church before becoming a mosque during the Ottoman empire.
‘Stand against racism’
In the Washington Post op-ed, Erdogan urged Western nations to stand against racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia after the Christchurch attack.
He said all Western leaders must learn from the “courage, leadership and sincerity” of Ardern and embrace Muslims living in their countries.
“We must shed light on all aspects of what happened and fully understand how the terrorist became radicalised and his links to terrorist groups to prevent future tragedies,” said Erdogan.
He compared the attack to those carried out by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS).
“We must establish that there is absolutely no difference between the murderer who killed innocent people in New Zealand and those who have carried out terrorist acts in Turkey, France, Indonesia and elsewhere,” said Erdogan.
“After attacks by the Islamic State, there was no shortage of Western politicians and commentators blaming the most deplorable acts of terrorism on Islam and Muslims.
“As a leader who has repeatedly stressed that terrorism has no religion, language or race, I categorically reject any attempt to associate last week’s terrorist attacks with the teachings, morals or maxims of Christianity,” he wrote.
“We’re here, this is our home and we’re staying.”