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20 Mar, 2019 08:22

'Your grandparents returned in caskets': Australia, New Zealand slam Erdogan's Christchurch comments

'Your grandparents returned in caskets': Australia, New Zealand slam Erdogan's Christchurch comments

The Australian PM has demanded the withdrawal of "offensive remarks" by the Turkish president, who invoked the deaths of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand in the Ottoman Empire when criticizing the Christchurch mass shooter.

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is currently campaigning for his party ahead of local elections on March 31, referred to the mass killings of Muslims in New Zealand during several rallies. Last week, a self-avowed white supremacist from Australia killed 50 people attending two mosques in the city of Christchurch and injured almost as many in what became the deadliest instance of political violence in the country's modern history.

'Your grandparents returned in caskets'

Since the weekend, the Turkish president showed supporters blurred footage of the massacre, which was livestreamed by the attacker, along with parts of the manifesto he had published before going on a gun rampage. Erdogan said the terrorist attack in Christchurch was motivated by hatred of Islam, which, he implied, parts of the Western establishment condone or secretly endorse. Turkey, a Muslim country, is in the crosshairs of this hatred, he warned.

"They are testing us from 16,500km away, from New Zealand, with the messages they are giving from there. This isn't an individual act, this is organized," he said, without elaborating.

Erdogan also said that people who want Turkey conquered and turned into a Christian nation like it was during the times of Byzantium – which was one of the goals stated by the Christchurch shooter in his manifesto – won't get what they want.

"We have been here for 1,000 years and will be here until the apocalypse, God willing," Erdogan told a rally on Monday.

You will not turn Istanbul into Constantinople.

"Your grandparents came here... and they returned in caskets," he added, referring to the ill-fated 1915 Gallipoli campaign, in which British-led Entente forces, which included soldiers from Australia and New Zealand, were defeated by the Turks. The two nations lost over 10,000 lives in the campaign, which are commemorated each year on April 25, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day.

'Reckless and highly offensive'

Erdogan's remarks and the use of the shooting video, which social media have been fighting hard to suppress, was criticized by both Australian and New Zealand officials. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday said he found the Turkish president's words "highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment."

Morrison summoned the Turkish ambassador for explanations and said later that he didn't accept the "excuses" he was offered during the conversation.

"I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn... I expect that to occur," said the prime minister, who also faces an election challenge in the coming weeks. He also accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – the father of modern Turkey – who sought reconciliation between his country and those that fought against it during World War I.

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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her foreign minister will confront Turkish officials about Erdogan's remarks when he travels to Turkey. "He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face," she said of the visit by Winston Peters. Peters earlier condemned the display of the footage, saying it may endanger the lives of New Zealanders abroad.

'No different than ISIS'

Erdogan also addressed the Christchurch massacre in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post on Tuesday. In it, he argued that the travel records of the accused murderer, which included several Muslim-majority nations, and anti-Turkish sentiments expressed in his manifesto, were of great concern for him.

The Turkish president said the terrorist's call to reconquer Istanbul and make it in Christian again was no different in essence to the calls by ideologues of the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) to destroy Turkey. The two carried similar responsibility for taking innocent Muslim lives. The difference, he said, is that some Western politicians, like Australian Senator Fraser Anning, chose Islam rather than ignorance and hatred as the cause of violence.

Western societies and governments must reject the normalization of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, which has been on the rise in recent years. It is crucial to establish that such twisted ideologies, such as anti-Semitism, amount to crimes against humanity.

"Moreover, we must shed light on all aspects of what happened and fully understand how the terrorist became radicalized and his links to terrorist groups to prevent future tragedies," Erdogan wrote.

He also praised New Zealand's PM Ardern for embracing Muslims living in her country and called on other Western leaders to follow her lead.

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