JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.
Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”
Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.
He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”
But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims.
“He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”
It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”
In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.
“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott 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“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.
A memorial at Gallipoli 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.”
“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.