Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday criticized Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz for his government’s decision to shut down seven mosques and expel 60 imams, warning of a “crusader-crescent war” and of retaliation.
“I am afraid that the steps taken by the Austrian prime minister will bring the world closer to a crusader-crescent war,” Erdoğan said during a fast-breaking meal held in İstanbul, according to a report by the Hürriyet Daily News. He added that Turkey would also “respond” in due course to the decision to expel the imams.
“Will we watch idly as you do this? They say our clerics there will be deported from Austria. If you do this, do you think we’ll idly stand by? We will be doing something, too,’’ Erdoğan added.
Erdoğan’s remarks came after measures announced by Kurz on Friday to expel several foreign-funded imams including those sent by the political Islamist Erdoğan regime and shut seven mosques in a crackdown on “political Islam.”
Kurz said an investigation into several mosques and associations conducted by the Ministry of Interior and Office of Religious Affairs had been concluded and that the activities of seven mosques were found to be prohibited, one of them belonging to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Association (ATİB).
The Austrian chancellor added the imams would be deported on grounds of being foreign funded. “Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalization have no place in our country,” Kurz said.
The chancellor said the initiative followed an investigation into images that emerged in April of young boys wearing Turkish uniforms marching, saluting, playing dead and waving Turkish flags. The pictures were found to have come from the Cologne-based ATİB, a branch of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also slammed Austria’s decision to close the mosques. “It is quite wrong. It neither suits universal legal rules nor the EU’s values nor the migrants’ law,” Yıldırım said on Friday.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement denouncing the decision. “We condemn Austrian politicians, especially Chancellor Kurz, for trying to achieve political interest from these alarming developments, rather than fighting against racism, Islam and xenophobia and the rise of the extreme right,” said the ministry on June 8.
Ties between Ankara and a number of European countries were hit in 2017 ahead of a controversial April 2017 referendum on changing Turkey’s system of governance to an executive presidency, with many Turkish politicians not permitted to hold campaign rallies.
Ahead of that referendum, Turkish ministers sought to drum up support in countries with large Turkish communities, such as the Netherlands and Germany. Those countries imposed bans on security grounds that angered Turkey, and Erdoğan and some of his allies at the time compared the German government to “Nazis.”
In 2015 when Kurz was Austria’s minister for Europe, integration and foreign affairs he backed Austria’s “law on Islam,” legislation that, among other things, banned the foreign funding of mosques and imams in Austria. The law, which eventually was passed by parliament, was intended to develop an Islam of “European character,” according to Kurz.
Around 360,000 people of Turkish origin, including 117,000 Turkish nationals, live in Austria. Ties between Ankara and Vienna have deteriorated in recent months with Kurz’s anti-immigration speeches and opposition to Turkey’s EU membership bid.