Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, has sparked a diplomatic confrontation with Australia and New Zealand over the Christchurch massacre by threatening that anti-Muslim Westerners would be sent home “in coffins” like those killed the Battle of Gallipoli.
The Turkish leader has made the killings in New Zealand a centre-piece of his political campaign ahead of local elections at the end of the month and has been playing footage of the mass killing before crowds at his rallies.
In a speech near the site where thousands of New Zealander and Australian troops were buried after the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli, Mr Erdogan said the Christchurch shooter and the First World War soldiers were both motivated by anti-Islamic sentiments.
“Your grandfathers came and saw that we’re here. Then some of them walked back, while others left in coffins,” Mr Erdogan said. “If you come with the same intention, we’ll be waiting for you.”
His comments were met with fury in Australia, where Scott Morrison, the prime minister, summoned Turkey’s ambassador and demanded that Mr Erdogan retract his remarks.
“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 said.
"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.”
Mr Morrison said Australia was reviewing its travel advice for Turkey. Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders are expected in Turkey on April 25 to commemorate Anzac Day, marking the first landings in Gallipoli.
Around 8,000 Australians and nearly 3,000 New Zealanders were killed during the disastrous year-long campaign against Ottoman forces, which was overseen by Winston Churchill. Around 130,000 were killed in total on both sides.
Mr Morrison said Mr Erdogan’s comments violated a pledge made by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, who reportedly said “after having lost their lives on this land [the fallen soldiers] have become our sons as well.”
Mr 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".
Mr Peters announced on Tuesday that he would be travelling to Turkey this week at Istanbul’s request to attend a special meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
“Our deputy prime minister will be confronting those comments in Turkey,” Ms Ardern told reporters in Christchurch. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face.”
Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, said she was dispatching her deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, to Turkey to confront Mr Erdogan’s comments about the massacre which left 50 people dead at the hands of a white supremacist gunman.
“Our deputy prime minister will be confronting those comments in Turkey,” Ms Ardern said in Christchurch. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face.”
Mr Erdogan earlier threatened that if “If New Zealand fails to hold the attacker accountable, one way or another we will hold him to account.”
However, in a comment piece in the Washington Post, Mr Erdogan praised Ms Ardern for showing “courage, leadership and sincerity”. He called on all Western leaders to follow her example and "embrace Muslims living in their respective countries”.
He also said there was no difference between the hateful ideology of Brenton Tarrant, the mosque gunman, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
Mr Erdogan has made a habit of provoking fights with foreign governments ahead of elections as a way of whipping up his base of nationalist voters.
Ahead of a referendum to change Turkey’s constitution in 2017, Mr Erdogan accused Dutch and German ministers of being Nazis. He expelled Israel’s ambassador from Ankara a month before the 2018 presidential elections.
Mr Erdogan often presents himself as a global champion of Muslims facing repression, from the occupied Palestinian territories to western China, where up to 1 million Uighur Muslims are believed to be detained by the Chinese government.
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