The Author

Zeynep Mentesoglu

Zeynep Mentesoglu holds a Bachelor Degree in International Relations at Middle East Technical University, Ankara. She is currently running a double-master programme at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in Barcelona. Her main focus is on integration of immigrants, territorial management strategies and regional integration policies of European Union with a particular focus on South Mediterranean including Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s move to close mosques frustrates Turkey’s President Erdogan. Kurz’s statement on closing seven mosques and expel around 60 imams and their families seems to trigger a new polemic between Turkey’s President Erdogan and Austria’s Prime Minister Sebastian Kurtz.

According to Austrian ministers aforementioned imams belonging to the Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria (ATIB) is close to the Turkish government and funded by Diyanet, the Turkish state religious authority. It is said with the decision taken around 150 people linked with those mosques are faced to lose their resident permits.

Kurtz justified the shot down decision due to a remembrance of Gallipoli war performed in one of the mosques followed by Turkish community. The children are seen to act as if they are martyred. “Political Islam’s parallel societies and radicalizing tendencies have no place in our country,” said by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Kurz’s anti-mosque statement have a broad repercussion both in Europe and its neighbour Turkey.

Kurz’s decision to shut down mosques was supported by Italy’s extreme right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. Salvini called for a common action policy. Salvini twitted that Islam was “incompatible with our values, rights and freedom,” adding: “I don’t want to end up like Britain, which has Islamic tribunals instead of English courts.”

Just after his statement Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum and the Western Wall on Sunday as part of a three-day visit to Israel. Already tense relations since with Europe since April 2017 referendum on shifting to an executive presidential system seems far from settlement. Hereon, latest news from Europe front set the stage for a new polemic between Turkey and Austria when the countdown for slot election has already started.

Erdogan triggered the polemic stating, “I am afraid that the steps taken by the Austrian prime minister would bring the world closer to a crusader-crescent war,” said Erdogan during an iftar dinner organized in Istanbul. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry condemned Austria’s mosque 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.

Kurz’s anti-mosque decision of Austria can have further implications outside Austrian borders and strengthen Erdogan’s hand. Turkey is holding snap elections on 24 June. Erdogan had already added the statement of Kurz to his election campaign speeches and it seems to be heard more frequently in his rallies. In other words, Erdogan seems to refer to anti-mosque decision in his rallies often and the issue so that the issue can be carried to a more delicate stage and further politicized.

lection campaigns continue on and on. Especially right wing conservative voters are disturbed with Austria’s anti mosque policy. The move of Austria seems to get more reaction particularly from conservative voters. In the presence of already tense atmosphere of Turkish politics under the heavy influence of June 24 elections Kurz’ statements can fuel Islamic sensitivity of many voters making them to vote for Erdogan and ruling party AKP (The Justice and Development Party) or at least make hem more confident voting accordingly.

Moreover, Kurz’s decision to close mosques may increase suspicions about Europe and moves the county further away from the path of European Union making Erdogan to raise voice his voice more than ever in on the eve of June 24 elections.

Moreover, Kurz’s visit to Israel can add another dimension to ongoing polemic. It is reported in Turkish press Kurz after his anti-mosque statement scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Kurz and many other Israeli leaders met in Jerusalem. His Israel visit will be followed by a visit to Global Forum of the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem. The relations between Turkey and Israel is already tense due to Turkey’s affinity to Palestine issue.

The relations one got tense again after Israeli air attack kills Palestinian at Gaza border. The visit soon may be also included to Erdogan’s election rallies to support his critique of anti-mosque decision of Austria. In spite of not forecasting how this polemic may end up , it is highly likely its implications will be felt both in Turkish-Austrian relations and ongoing Turkish election campaign.

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