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Turkish President's Comments On Mosque Shootings Prompt Outrage From Australia, New Zealand


Ottoman Turkish troops fought soldiers from New Zealand and Australia in World War I. Now, more than a century later, a war of words has broken out over comments by Turkey's president. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports he compared the recent mass shooting in Christchurch mosques with Turkish World War I battles against Australian and New Zealand troops, calling both examples of anti-Islam sentiment.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Each spring, visitors from Australia and New Zealand come to Turkey's Canakkale Peninsula, where ANZAC forces killed in the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign lie buried. But this year, Australia is issuing a caution to travelers about making the trip. The warning comes after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made what were called inflammatory remarks about more bodies in coffins returning to Australia or New Zealand. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was blunt.


PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON: Remarks have been made by the Turkish president, Erdogan, that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment.

KENYON: Morrison was responding to Erdogan's airing of a video of the Christchurch attack during a campaign rally. Heard here through an interpreter, Erdogan used the Gallipoli Campaign to warn Australia and New Zealand about bringing anti-Muslim sentiments to Turkey.


PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) Your grandfathers came. Some of them returned in coffins. If you come as well with the same intentions, have no doubt. We will send you back like your grandfathers.

KENYON: The ANZAC forces lost more than 11,000 soldiers at Gallipoli. Australia's Morrison said Erdogan had demeaned the memory of the fallen.


MORRISON: They're offensive because they insult the memory of our ANZACs, and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli of the promise of Ataturk to the mothers of our ANZACs.

KENYON: The memorial at Gallipoli features a comment by modern Turkey's first leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a veteran of the battle. He urged the mothers of the fallen ANZAC soldiers to wipe away their tears because, quote, "your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace." Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador over Erdogan's latest comments and said, quote, "all options are on the table if the remarks aren't withdrawn." By midafternoon, the website of Turkey's state-funded English-language news channel was topped with a black banner in memoriam to the 50 people gunned down in the Christchurch shooting.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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