Heated remarks don’t shake Anzac tours

Flowers laid for Anzac Day. Picture: iStock
Flowers laid for Anzac Day. Picture: iStock

TOUR companies that take Australians to Gallipoli for Anzac Day say their plans have not been rattled by provocative comments from the president of Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told an election rally that Australians with anti-Muslim views would be sent home in coffins like their grandfathers.

He was referencing the WWI battle at Gallipoli, in which thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers died fighting the Turks, as he responded to the Christchurch mosque massacres.

Australia’s travel advice to Turkey is under review, despite already being set at “exercise a high degree of caution”, due to the high threat of terrorism.

But tour companies Fanatics and Intrepid say they aren’t planning to cancel their upcoming Anzac Day offerings.

Cedric Rosser was one of the first men to land at Gallipoli.

Such controversy is not new, a spokesperson for Fanatics says.

“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 (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) and we expect our tours to go ahead without any issues,” they said.

“We have always enjoyed a healthy relationship with our Turkish hosts and have been running tours to Gallipoli for over two decades.”

Intrepid said the safety of its travellers is its first priority, and it expects regular updates from its local operators and Australian authorities.

But it’s not cancelling tours at the moment, and nobody who has signed up to one has done so.

“We do encourage any of our customers who have concerns to reach out to us directly,” Global Product and Operations Manager Jenny Gray said.

Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester said his department was continuing to plan the traditional commemorative services at Anzac Cove on April 25.

But he urged travellers to monitor the latest DFAT advice.

“Australia has a long and enduring relationship with Turkey based on mutual respect and our shared sacrifice of more than 100 years ago,” he said in a statement.

“The annual memorial service at Anzac Cove is a solemn commemoration of the service and sacrifice of the Australian, New Zealand and Turkish people.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said President Erdogan’s comments were “highly offensive”.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians, and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” the prime minister said on Wednesday.

He said they insulted the memory of the Australian and New Zealand troops who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey in World War I. The nations have since spent 100 years at peace.

Mr Morrison summoned Turkish ambassador Korhan Karakoc to Parliament House to explain the remarks and tell him the president should withdraw them.

“The excuses I don’t accept are things are said in the heat of the moment. The excuses that I don’t accept are that things are said in an electoral context,” Mr Morrison said after the meeting.

The prime minister confirmed all options for responding to Turkey were on the table, including expelling the ambassador.

Mr Karacoc told reporters as he exited Parliament House: “We had a frank exchange with the prime minister and the Gallipoli spirit will always remain.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten backed Mr Morrison’s stance on Mr Erdogan’s “foolish” remarks.

“We in Australia do not want or expect to be judged by the actions of a single, deranged Australian,” Mr Shorten said in Perth.

“But perhaps there’s a lesson also here for us. That when individuals of other faiths act, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge the faith.”

Australia’s travel advice for Turkey is already set at “exercise a high degree of caution”, due to the high threat of terrorism.

President Erdogan also called on New Zealand to restore the death penalty for the gunman, warning Turkey would make the attacker pay if they did not.

The president has jailed thousands of government officials, academics, journalists, political leaders, Kurds and members of the military since taking power.

The RSL said Anzac forces had fought against “exactly the sort of hate and extremism these comments represent”.