Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters in Konya, Turkey, December 17, 2018..
(photo credit: REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS)
New Zealand’s foreign minister traveled to Turkey
to “set the record straight, face-to-face” regarding comments made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following last week’s massacre of 50 Muslim worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch. The Turkish leader caused a firestorm by suggesting that anyone visiting Turkey while espousing anti-Muslim sentiments would be sent home “in coffins,” just as their forebears were during the failed Gallipoli campaign by Allied powers, including New Zealand and Australia, during World War I.
Winston Peters, the foreign minister, was already scheduled to go to Turkey for an emergency conference of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, called in the wake of the Christchurch attack. According to Professor Stephen Hoadley, associate professor of politics and international relations at the University of Auckland, “he will take the opportunity to reassert that the government and people [of New Zealand] have rallied behind the Islamic victims of the shooting."
Erdogan also raised the ire of Wellington and Canberra by airing blurred portions of footage that had been live-streamed by white supremacist Brenton Tarrant while he allegedly perpetrated the attack. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison likewise condemned Erdogan’s “reckless” and “highly offensive” behavior. He warned that he would consider “all options” in reviewing bilateral ties with Ankara and was planning to summon the Turkish ambassador to Australia to clarify Erdogan’s conduct.
Erdogan, who considers himself a leader of the Muslim world, is currently on the campaign trail to drum up support for his Islamist-rooted AK Party in March 31 local elections.
"He feels that he is the only person defending Muslims worldwide, and this was demonstrated last year when [US] President Donald Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem,” Dr. Vehbi Baysan, an assistant professor at Ibn Haldun University in Istanbul, told The Media Line. “At the time, Erdogan mobilized the Islamic world and held a conference in Turkey on the move, and then was instrumental in passing a resolution condemning the relocation at the United Nations.”
However, the Turkish leader is often provocative when making a political point.
“Erdogan is known for using polarizing tactics to divide Turkish society and feed on his narrative of western Islamophobia,” Dr. Ilia Xypolia, a lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of Aberdeen, said to The Media Line. “It’s business as usual for everyday Turkish politics”
Baysan agrees, noting that “this rhetoric occurs every year [on the anniversary of the Gallipoli battle of World War I] and gains a lot of traction on social media.”
Baysan believes that Erdogan’s comments align with his tough approach to Islamophobia, where he even accuses other Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, of not doing enough.
“Given the scale of the attack and the motive of the perpetrator, this is a unique event in recent times,” he said. “So even if something like this happened on European soil, Erdogan's reaction would have been equally severe.”
Xypolia contends that Erdogan is trying to appeal not only to his electorate, but to other Middle Eastern countries as well.
“He is trying to portray himself as a strong leader and to emphasize a clear division between Western Christian society and Muslims,” she said. “He is trying to communicate that Turkey should be the one influencing the Middle East, instead of the West.”
Still, it does not appear that the current episode will have lasting effects on Turkey’s relations with the West.
“Nothing will change between Turkey and the West,” Xypolia said, “because they view Turkey as a strategic partner in the Middle East – especially the EU, with its ongoing refugee crisis.”
Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line's Press and Policy Studies.
For more stories, visit themedialine.org.
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