The Turkish president has appeared in a bizarre video in which he assures a sobbing child in military uniform that she would get state honours if killed while fighting.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan was heard commenting: ‘If she’s martyred, they’ll lay a flag on her,’ at a televised congress of his AK party.
He made the comment – on live television – in front of cheering supporters who urged him to carry on with the military offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria’s northern Afrin region.
The president made the comments to a sobbing young girl dressed as a Turkish solider on a public stage during a live TV appeareance
The president was cheered by adoring supporters as he told the girl she will be honoured if she is martyred
Mr Erogan urged the child to be ‘ready for anything’
Critics have condemned his action as the same sort of child abuse for propaganda purposes as carried out by Islamic State fighters.
In the event the young girl – estimated to be about five years old – dressed as a soldier seems to catch the attention of Mr Erdogan, who then invites her to the stage, the BBC reported.
‘Look what you see here! Girl, what are you doing here? We have our maroon berets here, but maroon berets never cry,’ he told her, referring to the beret worn by the Turkish Special Operations Forces.
Turkish troops are currently engaged in an offensive in the northern Syrian region of Afrin
The Syrian region of Afrin, which borders Turkey, is held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and has faced a month-old assault by Ankara and allied Syrian rebels
Turkey says that it needs to protest its southern border areas from ‘terrorist’ forces based in Syria
Ankara sees both the YPG and PKK Kurdish groups as terrorist organisations – here a Turkish strike can be seen on a suspected PKK headquarters earlier this month
‘She has a Turkish flag in her pocket too… If she’s martyred, they’ll lay a flag on her, God willing,’ he stated.during the congress in the southern town of Kahramanmaras on Saturday.
‘She is ready for everything, isn’t she?’ The girl replied: ‘Yes.’
Mr Erdogan then kissed her face and let her go.
The president’s comments were immediately condemned on twitter – one person likened them to child abuse while another sad the president was wrong to says ‘God willing’ to the death of a child.
The president’s actions were also criticised by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) that opposes Ankara’s operation in the Afrin region.
‘The mindset that abuses children by promising them death will lose,’ the party stated.in a tweet.
The president’s latest comments however do not appear to have dampened the enthusiasm of his supporters of him or of his Syria offensive – they do not appear concerned that Erdogan’s own sons have evaded military service while he routinely emphasises the importance of martydom as a means of securing Turkey’s future.
Turkey on 20 January launched a major operation aimed at ousting YPG Kurdish forces from their enclave of the northwestern town of Afrin.
Mr Erdogan earlier this month stated.troops would also move east to Manbij – where unlike Afrin there is a US military presence. Commentators say such a move would mark a major escalation in the conflict.