Turkey’s President has sparked an acute diplomatic spat with New Zealand and Australia, referring to a key First World War campaign and the more recent Christchurch mosque shooting as targeting Islam.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been campaigning for local elections due at the end of the month, suggested this week that Australia and New Zealand had sent troops to fight in the First World War’s Gallipoli campaign due to their opposition to Islam. The battle, marked by heavy casualties on both sides, was a disastrous defeat for the allies against the then Ottoman Empire. Although the battle later helped cement friendship between the three countries, more than a century later it remains a highly sensitive subject in both Australia and New Zealand.
Australia was aghast at Mr. Erdogan’s comments, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison summoning Turkey’s Ambassador on Wednesday and demanding that Mr. Erdogan take the comments back, saying “all options are on the table” if he did not.
On Wednesday, Mr. Erdogan, inaugurating a theme park in Ankara as part of his campaign, called for votes for his party candidates as a response to “occupiers who attempt to threaten our nation from tens of thousands of kilometers away.”
“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Mr. Morrison told reporters in Canberra, Australia’s capital.
“They are offensive because they insult the memory of our Anzacs and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli,” he said, referring to a promise made by the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, that those who are buried rest on friendly soil. “I do not accept the excuses that have been offered for those comments.”
Mr. Erdogan has also sparked outrage abroad by screening at his campaign rallies excerpts of a video taken by the gunman who killed 50 people in mosques in Christchurch, to denounce what he has called rising hatred and prejudice against Islam. He has also been showing parts of a manifesto said to have been left by the gunman in which he threatens Turks and Mr. Erdogan himself.
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters is due in Istanbul this week for a meeting of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation to discuss the mosque shootings and was expected to take up the issue during the visit.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu later held a telephone conversation with his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials said. They did not provide further details about the call.