YEREVAN—The rifle magazine of the gunman who is accused of killing 50 people at a New Zealand mosque last week had Armenian writing on it, according to pictures posted on the shooter’s (now deleted) Twitter account. The markings, written in Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian and Georgian scripts, included references to historical battles between Muslim empires and Christian or European states. Also included were the names of historical figures revered for their resistance against Ottoman or Muslim invasions. There were also white-nationalist symbols and the names of other convicted terrorists.
Brenton Tarrant, the Australian national currently in custody for what authorities are calling “the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand history” apparently marked “Battle of Sarikamish” (Սարիղամիշի ճակատամարտ) in white Armenian letters on his STANAG magazines.
The inscription references the World War I battle which resulted in a decisive victory for the Russian Empire over Ottoman forces in Anatolia. Hoping to avoid responsibility for the defeat, Enver Pasha, Minister of War and one of the infamous “Three Pashas” leading the Ottoman Empire at the time, deflected blame to the Armenian population. Enver would justify his calls to eliminate the Empire’s Armenian population by pointing to the fact that several hundred ethnic Armenians had joined the Russian Army of the Caucasus (though most were Russian, not Ottoman citizens). The Battle of Sarikamish is remembered in Armenia as the prelude for the Armenian Genocide, which would enter its most violent phase a few months later. Another inscription invoked the Battle of Sardarabad, where Armenian forces managed to hold off an Ottoman invasion force in May of 1918.
The accused gunman also inscribed the names of Georgian, Serbian and Bulgarian leaders in their own national alphabets. Turkey’s President Erdogan has used some footage from the massacre to radicalize his supporters during a mass rally in Turkey.
Pictures depicting rifle magazines emblazoned with the names of David the Builder and David Soslani, two historical Georgian monarchs, made headlines in neighboring Georgia. The country has been contending with the rise of ultra-nationalist groups in recent years as well as concerns over homegrown Islamic extremism.
As information over the accused terrorist’s travels across Eastern Europe and ties with extremist groups in the region were made public, the Georgian Intelligence Service announced an investigation into his possible connections with Georgia.
By contrast, the National Security Service (NSS) in Armenia has yet to release a statement over concerns that the accused gunman may have visited the country. The NSS has also not responded to the Armenian Weekly’s request for comment at the time this article goes to print.
Anna Naghdalyan, the spokeswoman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry told reporters that “[Armenian authorities] are in contact with New Zealand’s relevant authorities on all issues linked with the incident,” but did not add any details.
The Armenian National Committee of New Zealand, for its part, released a statement denouncing, in no uncertain terms, the terrorist act, while offering condolences to the families of the victims. Regarding the inscription, their statement read “we condemn the accused gunman’s attempt to reference the Armenian language, along with the languages of other Christian nationalities – including Georgian, Serbian, Russian and Austrian – through markings on his weapons used in what was an unacceptable hate crime targeting the Islamic community.”
International Armenian organizations including the Aleppo NGO in Armenia, Armenian Community of Hong Kong and China, the AGBU, Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), Nor Zartonk in Istanbul, Organization of Istanbul Armenians and Zoravik Armenian Activist Collective in Boston launched an online petition condemning “the terrorist’s appropriation of Armenian language and history.”
In Armenia, the use of Armenian script on the rifle magazines garnered passing mention in the media, generating little interest apart from the general sense of abhorrence over the attack itself.
Editor’s note 03/23/19: An earlier version of this articles stated that the photos were released by the ChristChurch police department, this was corrected to show that the photos were released by the shooter himself, and reported on by international news outlets