Nov 24 2017

Erdoğan talks with Trump flanked by Ottoman war flag

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan talked on the telephone with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on Friday flanked by a flag of the Ottoman empire.

The flag, flown by the Ottoman 57th Regiment as it repelled Australian and British forces at Gallipoli during World War One, was seen hung by a window of Erdoğan’s office at the presidential palace in Ankara as he spoke with Trump. Turkey’s current flag, which depicts a white star and crescent on a red background, was nowhere to be seen in the photograph, taken by an adviser of Erdoğan.

The appearance of the flag, which is red and embroidered in gold insignia, breaks with the country’s secular traditions and has already caused a storm of discussion on Twitter.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk commanded Ottoman forces at Gallipoli and went on to found the secular Republic of Turkey in 1923. He rid the nation of Ottoman symbols and abolished the Islamic caliphate. Many opponents of Erdoğan accuse him of undermining Atatürk's reforms and seeking to rejuvenate Ottoman Islamic culture. The rhetoric of Erdoğan and his ministers is often filled with conspiratorial references to foreigners seeking to overthrow his government.

A long-standing legend in Turkey claims that the flag was captured by Australian forces, who found it hanging on a tree above the corpse of the last surviving member of the regiment, and that it is now on display at the Melbourne Museum. The Museum and the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne answer many calls from the Turkish community about the flag around ANZAC Day each year, but assure all enquirers that they have never had the flag.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said after the phone call that Trump had agreed to a request to halt sales of weapons to Kurdish forces in Syria.