Battlefield tourism operators do not believe the escalating war of words between the Australian prime minister and the Turkish president over inflammatory comments following the Christchurch terrorist attack will have any bearing on Gallipoli commemorations on Anzac Day.
Scott Morrison is furious about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s comments invoking Gallipoli to denounce anti-Islamic sentiment in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack.
Morrison announced on Wednesday that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is reviewing Australia’s official travel advice to Turkey.
Erdoğan suggested that anyone who travels to Turkey with anti-Muslim sentiments would be sent back in coffins, “like their grandfathers were” during the Gallipoli campaign.
He made the comments in Turkey’s north-western Çanakkale province, which is home to the historic battlefields, on the anniversary of a first world war Turkish naval victory.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is continuing to make plans to conduct the traditional commemorative services at Anzac Cove on 25 April.
“The Australian government is closely monitoring the security situation in Turkey and regards the safety of Australians who plan to visit the Gallipoli Peninsula as its highest priority,” veterans affairs minister Darren Chester said.
The tour company Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours played down the row between the two leaders.
“People are smart enough to realise the president doesn’t represent the view of all of Turkey,” Mat said.
“There is a strong spirit of camaraderie between Turkey and Australia. The Turks often stand side-by-side during the dawn service.”
There is a long tradition of mutual respect between locals in the towns around the battlefields and visiting Australians.
The camaraderie transcends any religious issues and there are no indications from their Turkish partners that there is any increased risk involved.
He said bookings ahead of Anzac Day were actually well up on the previous year.
Another tour company, Fanatics, also dismissed the controversy.
“Each year there always seems to be an issue brought up on the eve of the Gallipoli ceremonies but we are in close contact with Dfat and we expect our tours to go ahead without any issues,” company spokesperson Kim Pham said.
The Australian Defence Association executive director, Neil James, called for calm. “We’ve just got to ride this one out,”
“If we want to continue to have the access to Gallipoli we’ve always had … then there’s no point making inflammatory statements back.”
James noted Australian tourist numbers for Gallipoli Anzac Day commemorations had been in decline for some time – mostly related to travel warnings about the prospects of terror attacks in Turkey. “People who are going to go are still going to go,” he said.
The Returned and Services League of Australia is “shocked and deeply dismayed” by the Turkish president’s comments.
The RSL national interim chair, John King, said: “It would be appalling for Australians to feel threatened if they wish to visit Gallipoli to pay their respects. The president’s comments are provocative and intolerable at a time when we should all unite to disavow radicalism.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade revised down travel warnings to Turkey last year. The advice shifted from “reconsidering a need to travel to Ankara and Istanbul because of the high threat of a terrorist attack” to “exercise a high degree of caution” in those cities and the country overall.
Morrison said he was “deeply offended” by the “reckless” comments and noted that the Australian and New Zealand governments had both denounced “extremist rightwing terrorism” and offered support to their Muslim communities in the wake of the Christchurch attack.
Morrison said he wants to take out the “heat” out of the issue. “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,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“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 Australians should exercise common sense and caution when it comes to Gallipoli travel plans for Anzac Day.
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