Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been rebuked by Australia’s leader for “very offensive” comments he made at a political rally in the wake of last week’s New Zealand massacre, which was instigated by an Australian and killed 50 Muslim worshipers at two mosques.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison summoned the Turkish ambassador to a meeting after Erdogan appeared to threaten antipodean tourists who visit Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula. The site recognized as a significant World War I battleground by Australians and New Zealanders and every year, thousands travel to Gallipoli for WWI commemorations held on April 25.
Erdogan, 65, has been holding multiple rallies for his Islamist-rooted AK Party as opinion polls show its support waning in the two biggest cities, Ankara and Istanbul, ahead of local elections on March 31.
This week in Canakkale in western Turkey, near the Gallipoli site, he said of the New Zealand massacre, which also injured Turkish nationals: “This is not an isolated event, it is something more organized."
Referring to antipodean visitors to Gallipoli, he said “Your grandparents came, some of them returned in coffins. Have no doubt we will send you back like your grandparents."
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in Canberra after meeting with the Turkish ambassador, Morrison said he did not accept the “excuses” offered for the comments and that “all options are on the table” should Turkey’s government not retract them.
“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. “The comments also completely misrepresent the very strong position taken by the Australian and New Zealand governments in our response to the extremist attack in New Zealand that was committed by an Australian.”
Morrison said Australia is reviewing its travel advisory for Turkey, and “people should exercise common sense in relation to their travel plans.”
New Zealand has expressed alarm that Erdogan used footage of the Christchurch rampage filmed and live-streamed by the assailant at a televised rally in Antalya to galvanize supporters. That was criticized by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, who will visit Turkey to attend a special ministerial meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul later this week.
“This important event will allow New Zealand to join with our partners in standing against terrorism and speaking up for values such as understanding and religious tolerance,” Peters said in a statement on Tuesday. “We are very clear that the terrorist attack in Christchurch, committed by a person who is not a New Zealander, is utterly contrary to our core beliefs.”