Australia, New Zealand guilty of anti-Ottoman nationalism - analyst

Just as a desperate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week sought to whip up conservative nationalist sentiment in the lead-up to Turkey’s March 31 elections, Australian and New Zealand leaders have similarly worked to stoke nationalist feelings in response, said an analysis on Monday at World Socialist Website.

Visiting Gallipoli last week, just days after a suspected Australian gunman killed 50 people in mosque attacks in New Zealand, Erdoğan recalled the 1915 World War One battle in which Ottoman forces defeated troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) alongside British and French soldiers.

Turkey’s leader seized on the New Zealand attack to portray his country as under threat, citing alleged shooter Brenton Tarrant’s anger about the Turkish presence in Europe.

“Your grandfathers came and saw that we're here. Then some of them walked back, while others left in coffins,” Erdoğan said. “If you come with the same intention, we'll be waiting for you.”

The comments sparked swift and strong condemnation from Australian and New Zealand media and officials.

“The Anzac ‘legend’ is a central ideological tool used by Australia and New Zealand’s ruling elite to promote patriotism and militarism particularly amid acute social tensions over poverty and inequality,” columnist Tom Peters wrote on Monday for World Socialist. “It has helped create the environment that fuelled the growth of fascist groups and led to the Christchurch massacre.”

Showing parts of the attacker’s video of the shooting, Erdoğan declared that Tarrant did not act alone, but that the attacks were organised, contradicting the assertions of New Zealand police, according to Peters. He also said Tarrant may have been planning attacks on Turkey, which he visited twice in 2016.

“Erdoğan’s statements are aimed at whipping up Turkish nationalism in order to divert growing working-class anger over social inequality in the lead-up to the March 31 local elections,” said Peters. “The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is desperately trying to cling to power amid an economic crisis and worsening tensions with the U.S.”

But Peters argued that the outraged responses from Canberra and Wellington were just as bad as the statements from Turkey’s leader.

“Neither government condemned or sought to differentiate themselves from Tarrant’s call in his manifesto for Christians to reconquer Istanbul and slaughter Turks, or his threat to ‘kill Erdoğan,” Peters wrote. “Instead, they sought to whip up nationalist sentiment against Turkey and defend the Anzacs’ World War I campaign.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Erdoğan’s comments “highly offensive...and highly reckless” and an “insult [to] the memory of our Anzacs.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sent Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who leads a right-wing nationalist party and has made anti-Muslim statements, to Turkey to confront Erdoğan.

Within a few days tensions had cooled and Australia and New Zealand had received assurances from Ankara that travellers would be welcome at Gallipoli on Anzac Day on April 25.

“The ruling class in both countries encourages citizens to make patriotic ‘pilgrimages’ to Gallipoli on the day,” said Peters, even though the military campaign proved disastrous, with 8,700 Australians and 2,700 New Zealanders among the 130,000 killed.  

“Anzac mythology has always falsely justified the imperialist war as the defence of democracy and ‘our way of life.’ Now, however, it is increasingly portrayed as a fight against Islamic ‘extremism’ and a precursor to today’s wars,” he wrote.

Last week, John King, chairman of the veterans’ group Returned Services League (RSL), said Erdoğan’s speeches were “the sort of hate and extremism” Australian soldiers had fought against.

Damien Fenton, who wrote a state-funded book praising New Zealand’s World War One campaign, has said Gallipoli was the cradle for the jihad the world is facing today, according to Peters.

“The fascist who carried out the March 15 attacks did not develop his views in a vacuum,” said Peters. “He grew up during a quarter century of constant wars in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Muslim racism and militarist propaganda, including the historical lies surrounding the Anzac legend.”