Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has strongly criticized Austria’s recent decision to close mosques and expel Turkish-funded imams, calling the move “anti-Islamic.”
Erdogan, who has concentrated ever-increasing power in his own hands and those of his Justice and Development Party, was scathing of the Austrian announcement and seemed to threaten severe reprisals. “These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister [Sebastian Kurz] are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent,” he said in a speech in Istanbul.
It is said that the Austrian move could lead to the expulsion of up to 60 Turkish-funded imams and their families and would probably lead to up to seven mosques having to close – as part of a crackdown on what the Austrian government has termed “political Islam.”
Among the mosques facing closure is the Mosque of the Grey Wolves on Antonsplatz, in the working-class Vienna district of Favoriten, where the Gallipoli reenactment took place. (Gallipoli being the site of one of the worst Allied reverses in World War I, with tens of thousands of casualties at the hands of Ottoman-Turkish soldiers).
Erdogan, speaking recently, said: “They say they’re going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?”
“That means we’re going to have to do something,” he added without elaborating.
There are an estimated 360,000 people of Turkish extraction living in Austria – making it the second largest minority in the country. This is in addition to between 2.5 million and 4 million currently residing in neighboring Germany.
Relations between Turkey and Austria have been strained since 2016, when forces loyal to Erdogan brutally cracked down an alleged attempted coup to ouster the president, who has been at the center of Turkish political life since early in the Millennium.
Tensions have recently increased due to the upcoming Turkish presidential elections on June 24, in which Erdogan faces strong competition from Muharrem Ince, and an increasingly skeptical local electorate.