Erdogan: U.S. Sanctions on Turkey ‘No Different’ than Attacks on ‘Our Flag and Call to Prayer’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted Ankara would "have to do something" in response after Austria moved to close mosques and expel Turkish-funded imams, slamming the decision as anti-Islamic
AFP/ADEM ALTAN

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered a message observing the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha on Monday, condemning “an attack on our economy” and appearing to reference U.S. sanctions on Ankara, without naming Washington.

Eid al-Adha falls on August 21, as Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia from around the world to observe the hajj, or the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca.

Erdoğan appeared to link alleged “economic attacks” on Turkey with attacks on the greater Muslim world in his statement Monday.

“An attack on our economy is no different from a direct strike against our flag and call to prayer. The purpose is not different. It aims to bring Turkey and the Turkish people to their knees,” Erdoğan said, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. “We are a kind of a people who prefer to be beheaded instead of being chained around the neck.”

Erdoğan warned unnamed enemies of the Turkish state that they would not defeat his government, saying:

If those who have failed to make Turkey give up through terror organizations and local treacherous gangs with all sorts of traps and tricks, think they can make Turkey give up through exchange rates, they will soon see they are mistaken. Our country, God willing, has enough power and ability to overcome this.

While Erdoğan did not mention the United States, his government has repeatedly referred to economic sanctions on Turkish officials imposed by the United States as economic warfare. Last week, Turkish Presidency Communications Director Fahrettin Altun accused Washington of attempting to organize a “coup” against Erdoğan: “With the acumen of our nation and the leadership of our president, we are fending off this economic coup attempt. This dear nation will remember both those who stand with and against it in this process.”

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the nation’s foreign minister, also accused the United States of not wanting to come to terms with Turkey and lift sanctions on its top ministers or incentivize Turkey to drop tariffs that it imposed on American goods in retaliation for the sanctions.

“It seems that the U.S. does not want to solve these problems. They want to use these subjects in the elections,” Çavuşoğlu said on Sunday. “But we do not have any problems with the people of the U.S. who have started to see the reality. It should be the people of the U.S. that will give the necessary response, not us.”

Economic tensions between Turkey and America exacerbated following the nearly two years since the arrest of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor preaching in Turkey for more than two decades. Turkey authorities arrested Brunson in late 2016 on charges of spying for Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen and the Marxist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Brunson denies the charges, and American authorities insist that Turkey prosecutors have not presented satisfactory evidence backing their claims. This month, the Treasury Department sanctioned Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu for their goals in the ongoing detention of Pastor Brunson. The sanctions only affect those two individuals’ personal assets; the State Department has insisted that the Turkish economy was long in decline before they were imposed.

The White House has stated it would consider, but not guarantee, the lifting of sanctions if Brunson is released.

On Monday, hours before Erdoğan’s speech, unknown assailants conducted a hit-and-run shooting at the U.S. embassy in Ankara. The incident occurred around 5:00 a.m. local time, and, as the embassy was to be closed on Monday anyway for the Eid holiday, no one was hurt. Yet the incident appeared to be sending a message to Americans that they are no longer safe in the country.

“We condemn the attack on the US embassy. This is clearly an attempt to create chaos. Turkey is a safe country and all foreign missions are under the protection of law,” presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said following the attack.

The shooting is the latest in a series of anti-American events exacerbated by Erdoğan’s rhetoric. Last week, following calls by the president to boycott American products, videos began surfacing on social media of Turks destroying their iPhones and dumping Coca-Cola down their drains in protest of the sanctions.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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