Australia is urgently reviewing travel advice for Turkey weeks before Anzac Day celebrations after President Tayyip Erdogan warned Australians can expect to come home “in caskets” if there is a repeat of the Christchurch massacre.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday he had demanded Turkey remove false claims about Australia and the New Zealand terrorist attacks from its state-sponsored television station and would await a response before taking further action.
Australia’s official travel advice for Turkey warns travellers to “exercise a high degree of caution”, but this could be raised following Mr Erdogan’s comments.
“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.
As he campaigns across Turkey for re-election, Mr Erdogan has been airing segments of the accused Australian mosque shooter’s video.
He has also used the gunman’s online document to argue Islam is under sustained attack.
Perhaps the most shocking element of Mr Erdogan’s recent speeches came on Monday (local time) when he spoke during a visit to the Gallipoli peninsula, where Ottoman soldiers defeated the Anzacs.
“Your grandparents came here and they returned in caskets,” he said of Australians.
Mr Morrison described the comments as offensive.
“They are 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 [former leader Mustafa Kemal] Ataturk to the mothers of other Anzacs,” he said.
“I understand the deep offence Australians would be feeling about this.”
Mr Ataturk, the commander of Ottoman forces during the battle of Gallipoli and the founder of modern Turkey, has been credited with an oft-quoted speech reassuring Australian mothers that their sons “are now lying in our bosom and are in peace”.
Turkish authorities have since insisted he never made the speech.
Mr Morrison earlier summoned the Turkish ambassador over the comments and said he conveyed the offence felt by Australians “in strongest possible terms”.
“I do not accept the excuses that have been offered for those comments,” he said.
Mr Morrison said there would be further meetings on Wednesday between the ambassador and the Turkish government, while the country’s foreign ministers would also discuss the matter.
“My job is to ensure that we act in a measured way to take the temperature down and ensure that we continue to work to foster goodwill between peoples,” he said.
“That said, I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.”
Mr Morrison said he had demanded the reporting of the misrepresented position of Australia on Turkish state television to cease.
“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,” he said.
“Also, the travel advisory to Turkey is obviously under review, and that is a process that will take some time and when that has been concluded, we will make a further announcement.”
Mr Erdogan previously condemned the Christchurch shooter at an election rally.
“You heinously killed 50 of our siblings. You will pay for this,” he said.
“If New Zealand doesn’t make you, we know how to make you pay one way or another.”
It has been revealed the Australian man accused of the mosque shootings visited Turkey twice in 2016.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also condemned Mr Erdogan’s “foolish and offensive remarks”.
“Intemperate and regrettable remarks like this only play into the hands of those who seek to divide,” he said.
“They do not protect the peace and security of any nation.”
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who will soon arrive in Turkey on a planned visit, added his criticism of Mr Erdogan’s use of the gunman’s footage in election advertising.
“Anything of that nature that misrepresents this country, given that this was a non-New Zealand citizen, imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and that is totally unfair,” Mr Peters said.