Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sparked a diplomatic row by linking the Australian gunman in the Christchurch mosque massacres to a battle involving Australian and New Zealand troops in his own country more than a century ago.
Speaking at a political rally Monday, Erdogan warned that any anti-Islamic extremists from Australia or New Zealand who attempt to attack his majority Muslim country would return home “in coffins.”
The comments drew a swift rebuke from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who summoned Turkey’s envoy over the incident.
Erdogan appeared to be responding to comments made about Turkey in the so-called “manifesto” of 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, the suspect charged with murder in connection with last Friday’s terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 people dead.
“We’ve been here for a thousand years, and we will be here until Judgment Day. You can’t make Istanbul into Constantinople,” Erdogan said, according to Turkish statenews agenecy Anadolu.
“Your grandfathers came and saw that we’re here. Then some of them walked back, while others left in coffins … if you come with the same intention, we’ll be waiting for you,” he said.
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Invading Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) troops, along with British and French forces, fought Turkish soldiers at the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915 during World War I. The failed invasion cost thousands of lives. Each year, thousands of New Zealanders and Australians travel to Turkey to pay respects at Gallipoli, and the event is commemorated in Australia and New Zealand as Anzac Day, a national day of remembrance for war dead.
Morrison said Erdogan’s comments were “highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment.”
“It is truly upsetting. I have conveyed that in the strongest of possible terms to the Turkish ambassador today, and I do not accept the excuses that have been offered for those comments,” 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. But my actions here are to be measured to de-escalate, to not engage in a cycle of recklessness but to engage in a positive spirit,” he said.
The response of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was more muted. Ardern said she doesn’t think there will be a change in long-term relations with Turkey.
“We have for decades gone to Gallipoli to acknowledge that we want to be a world free of war, of hatred and violence. And that is what many New Zealanders make that pilgrimage for,” said Ardern.
She said New Zealand Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is traveling to Turkey to “set the record straight, face to face.”
“He is going there to set the record straight, and that is an opportunity that he should take up. We have to make sure what is reflected is an accurate portrayal of New Zealand and New Zealanders and indeed of our Muslim community as well,” Ardern said.
Erdogan has called on Western governments in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack to do more to combat Islamophobia.
But he also appears to be politicizing the massacre, discussing it at events ahead of local elections. At a rally Monday, he aired footage of the mosque shooting that had been live-streamed by the suspect, though the victims were blurred out.
He said Tuesday that Tarrant “will pay for this. If New Zealand doesn’t do so, one way or another we will make you pay,” according to Anadolu.
CNN’s Angus Watson contributed to this report