The government seems determined to do its utmost to assist in the election campaign of the odious Turkish President Erdogan. It surely cannot be their conscious intention, but how else to read what they are doing?
There are local elections in Turkey next weekend. The Financial Times reports that the ruling party is facing the possibility of losing control of the capital city, Ankara. The economy – which has done remarkably well in recent decades (as I’ve noted here, real GDP per hour worked is now almost equal to New Zealand) – is currently in a sharp downturn.
Erdogan appears to be trying to bolster his local appeal by wrapping around himself some sort of self-acquired mantle as a leader among Islamic states.
And thus, although no Turkish citizens were killed in last Friday’s dreadful attacks in Christchurch, suddenly the Turkish Vice-President and Foreign Minister are in New Zealand. There are motorcades in Christchurch and even a meeting with the Governor-General. What was the government doing agreeing to even this visit? Didn’t their advisers tell them how this would most likely be used? And, to add insult to injury, this is a Turkish government that – like all Turkish governments – actively denies (and threatens states that say otherwise) the active involvement of Turkish authorities in the Armenian genocide, one of the most hideous events in an awful war.
And that was before we learned of Erdogan using clips from the shooting video in his election rally, amping up the rhetoric with talk of Gallipoli and how the landings in 1915 had been anti-Muslim in nature, and talking of sending people (New Zealanders and Australians) home in coffins. Perhaps it played well to his base, but not only was it irresponsible and inflammatory, it wasn’t even remotely historically accurate. Turkey – or its predecessor the Ottoman Empire – actively chose to enter the war on the German and Austro-Hungarian side. Right up to the outbreak of war the British had been helped develop the Ottoman navy. I’m not relitigating the rights and wrongs of the First World War, but it was their choice. The German establishment at the time was firmly Protestant. The New Zealand government history site tells us
Enver grew impatient. On 25 October 1914, without consulting any of his ministerial colleagues, he ordered Admiral Souchon to take the Ottoman fleet, including the German-crewed ships, into the Black Sea to attack the Russians. The fleet carried out surprise raids on Theodosia, Novorossisk, Odessa and Sevastopol, sinking a Russian minelayer, a gunboat and 14 civilian ships. On 2 November, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire. France and the British Empire, Russia’s wartime allies, followed suit on the 5th. Enver Pasha had succeeded in bringing the Ottoman Empire into the First World War on the side of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Whether he would be as successful in achieving his principal war aim – pan-Turkic expansion into Central Asia at Russia′s expense – was another question.
Erdogan can play domestic politics all he likes. That is his problem, and that of his people/country. But we should hold our officeholders to account for their (in)actions and words.
We are told that our Foreign Minister has had a quiet word to the visiting Turkish politicians. But we’ve heard nothing from our Prime Minister. By contrast, Scott Morrison has openly demanded an apology from Erdogan. I’m sure he won’t get one, but at least he has put his cards on the table, and stuck up for his country.
What is our government doing? Well, a press release yesterday told us that the Foreign Minister (Deputy Prime Minister in this coalition government) is off to Turkey, of all places, accompanied by another government minister.
“Our current intention is then to travel onwards to Turkey, at the request of the Turkish Government, to attend a special ministerial meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation being held in Istanbul.
“This important event will allow New Zealand to join with our partners in standing against terrorism and speaking up for values such as understanding and religious tolerance.
So, late in his election campaign, having insulted New Zealanders – past and present – Erdogan summons a meeting and our government comes running. How does he supppose the state-dominated media in Turkey is likely to present that? As if New Zealand has anything to answer for to Turkey.
And that is before we get to even consider this meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. This is such an odious organisation that just recently they issued a collective official statement endorsing the treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang by the People’s Republic of China. I’ve been critical of our government for saying and doing nothing on that issue, but not once have I supposed that the Prime Minister and her Foreign Minister think it is all just fine (they leave that stance to Todd McClay). To his credit, Erdogan has actually been a rare leader to criticise the PRC over Xinjiang, but this is a meeting of the OIC itself Winston Peters is to attend.
And what messages does he envisage? They will jointly speak out against terrorism – no problem with that – but they will also, we are told, speak up for “values such as…religious tolerance”. Really? It would be great if they both did it and meant it, but a significant proportion of the member countries of the OIC have apostasy laws on the books.
And a significant proportion of those countries actually provide the death penalty as the punishment for leaving Islam. I’ve listened to church leaders talk about the extreme courage of (rare) converts. Tolerance in these countries means if you are born and raised Christian, Jewish or whatever you can stay that way, but no one is allowed to convert out of Islam.
It isn’t true of all countries. Turkey is pretty good on the religious freedom score. But – given the laws on their own statute books, freely chosen – any talk of religious toleration by the OIC is almost certain to be less than entirely honest. And Winston Peters will be giving them cover by attending this meeting, just as he’ll probably be grist to Erdogan’s election campaign by turning up in Istanbul at all at a time like this.
Perhaps he will use the visit to make a strongly-worded call for an apology from Erdogan and for (too much of) the Islamic world to embrace genuine religious freedom – the right to adopt or to leave a religion. But I’m not holding my breath.