Er­do­gan slams Europe dur­ing WWI cel­e­bra­tions

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Christo­pher Torchia

is­tan­bul» Cheered by flag-wav­ing sup­port­ers, Turkey’s pres­i­dent turned a com­mem­o­ra­tion of a World War I cam­paign into a po­lit­i­cal rally on Satur­day, slam­ming Europe and declar­ing that a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum next month on whether to ex­pand his pow­ers will en­hance Turkey’s place in the world.

Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan out­lined his vi­sion at a sta­dium cer­e­mony in the Aegean port of Canakkale, near where Ot­toman armies held off an Al­lied ex­pe­di­tionary force in 19151916, a bloody event that helps to un­der­pin staunch na­tion­al­ism in Turkey to­day.

While Turkey calls it the Canakkale bat­tle, its former Al­lied ad­ver­saries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia and New Zealand, re­fer to it as the Gal­lipoli cam­paign.

While mil­i­tary units marched and per­form­ers in Ot­toman-style robes banged drums and cym­bals, Er­do­gan was less fo­cused on past feats than on his cur­rent po­lit­i­cal bat­tle, whose out­come could se­cure his sta­tus as one of the most pow­er­ful fig­ures in Turkey since the coun­try’s 1923 found­ing after the col­lapse of the Ot­toman Em­pire.

Op­po­nents of the demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent view the April 16 ref­er­en­dum as part of a dan­ger­ous drift to­ward au­thor­i­tar­ian rule, though sup­port­ers see him as a pil­lar of sta­bil­ity, Mus­lim piety and na­tion­al­ist pride in a tur­bu­lent re­gion that in­cludes neigh­bor­ing Syria.

“We are of­fer­ing his­toric re­form,” said Er­do­gan, who main­tains that an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dency and the abo­li­tion of the prime min­is­ter’s post will help Turkey de­velop eco­nom­i­cally and deal with se­cu­rity chal­lenges, which in­cluded a botched coup at­tempt last year.

Speak­ing in Ankara, Turkey’s main op­po­si­tion leader, Ke­mal Kil­ic­daroglu, urged Turks to vote no in the ref­er­en­dum, say­ing ap­proval would un­der­mine democ­racy. Also in the Turk­ish cap­i­tal, po­lice de­tained 11 mem­bers of a small left­ist group who were demon­strat­ing against the ref­er­en­dum, the Do­gan news agency re­ported.

Er­do­gan had harsh words for Europe, where some coun­tries, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns, have pre­vented Turk­ish Cab­i­net min­is­ters from cam­paign­ing for ref­er­en­dum votes in the Turk­ish di­as­pora.

“We have around 3 mil­lion vot­ers liv­ing abroad,” Er­do­gan said. Euro­pean gov­ern­ments “hin­dered them,” he said. “Let them try and hin­der them. Whether Ger­mans, Dutch, Aus­tri­ans, Swiss, Bel­gians, Danes or who­ever it is, know that your pres­i­dent has stood firm and will keep on stand­ing firm.”

Dutch au­thor­i­ties had re­fused to let Turk­ish min­is­ters ad­dress Turk­ish cit­i­zens in ral­lies, prompt­ing Er­do­gan to re­fer to “Nazi rem­nants” in the Nether­lands. Euro­pean Union lead­ers called the re­mark un­ac­cept­able.

Turkey has sug­gested that it might re­tal­i­ate against Europe by pulling out of a 2016 deal to stem the flow of refugees to the con­ti­nent, in which Turkey takes back peo­ple who are de­tected cross­ing the Aegean Sea by Greek, EU and NATO ships. Turkey gets Euro­pean fund­ing un­der the deal, which also was sup­posed to al­low visa-free travel to Europe for Turks.

“Un­for­tu­nately, we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a prob­lem­atic process” in visa-waiver talks, Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said Satur­day. Anadolu, Turkey’s state-run news agency, re­ported his com­ments.

As part of the spat over po­lit­i­cal cam­paign­ing in Europe, Turkey has crit­i­cized Ger­many, whose of­fi­cers pro­vided key guid­ance to Ot­toman troops dur­ing the slaugh­ter on the Aegean coast more than a cen­tury ago.

The March 18 an­niver­sary marks the be­gin­ning of an Al­lied naval bom­bard­ment near Canakkale, at the Dar­danelles strait. Former Al­lied na­tions hold their own com­mem­o­ra­tion on April 25, the day in 1915 when troops un­der Bri­tish com­mand landed after the bom­bard­ment. The Al­lied force failed to ad­vance and with­drew in early 1916.

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