Turks whip up storm of disapproval over Pope's Istanbul visit

Pope Benedict was given another warning yesterday of what lies ahead for him in Turkey when more than 20,000 people demonstrated against his coming visit in central Istanbul and urged him to stay at home.

Huge banners stretched across the road screamed "Papa Gelmesin" - "The Pope should not come"- and placards carried caricatures of the Pope and his Christian Orthodox counterpart Bartholomew I scheming together to recreate the Byzantine empire - all signs of the paranoid fear that campaigners against the visit are stirring up.

"The Crusades - what a very peaceful walk!" said one placard; another, "The Pope - the man who stuck out his tongue at the Prophet Mohamed and Islam."

The demonstration, which was peaceful, was the latest in a series of protests against the visit, which begins in Ankara tomorrow. First a man fired a gun outside the Italian consulate in Istanbul and yelled that he wanted to strangle the Pope. Last week, members of the so-called Grey Wolves, the Nationalist Movement Party to which Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who tried to assassinate Benedict's predecessor in 1981, belongs, invaded Hagia Sophia, the ancient cathedral-turned-mosque-turned museum in Istanbul, and ostentatiously prayed (which is forbidden) in protest.

The Pope's first visit to a majority Muslim country was never going to be straightforward, but the pontiff made it much more difficult for himself in September when, during an address in the German city of Regensburg, he quoted a 13th-century Byzantine emperor as describing Islam as "evil and inhuman" because it countenanced conversion by the sword. After Ali Bardakoglu, director of Turkey's Department of Religious Affairs, drew attention to the insult, the chorus of anger rose to a crescendo. Ali Bardakoglu is the first important Turk the Pope will meet.

"Pope Benedict XVI ... alienated a billion Muslims with his speech," wrote one Turkish columnist. In Turkey "he will find very few real sympathisers ... and a lot of non-welcomers".

Yesterday's protest was organised by the Sadat ("Happiness") party, an Islamist group from which the party that rules Turkey today, the Justice and Development Party, split away during the 1990s. Today Happiness is a marginal player in Turkish politics, gaining only 3 per cent of votes at the last election. But opponents of the visit comprise a broad coalition, from Islamists to secular nationalists.

The decision by the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, not to meet the Pope - he will be away at a Nato summit - shows how much of a hot potato the visit has become. The tension and hostility is partly Benedict's fault, but it is largely the result of a very ugly history. When Pope Paul VI visited in 1965, he became the first pope to come to Istanbul in nearly a millennium.

The Crusades, especially the Fourth, during which Crusaders killed, cooked and ate the population of a village in their path, convinced Muslims and Orthodox Christians that the Christians of the West were malign barbarians. The privileges for Christians extracted by the great powers early in the 20th century and plans to divide Turkey between Greeks, French and Italiansconfirmed the opinion.

During his Sunday words to the crowd in St Peter's Square yesterday, the Pope said: "I want to send a cordial greeting to the dear Turkish people, rich in history and culture ... To this people and their leaders I express feelings of esteem and of sincere friendship."

In a last-minute change to the schedule, the Vatican announced that as well as visiting Hagia Sophia, the Pope will also call in on the Blue Mosque nearby, as a gesture of respect. But the Turks are taking no chances: Benedict, they say, will be given the same level of protection that would be given to President Bush.

The itinerary

* ANKARA

The Pope opens his Turkish tour tomorrow in the capital, where, after seeing the President, he will have a meeting with Ali Bardakoglu, the first important Muslim to denounce his Regensburg address. Demonstrations are expected in the city, and thousands of riot police are on standby.

* EPHESUS

The Pope is flying on Wednesday to the place where, according to tradition, St John the Evangelist brought the Virgin Mary in her old age and where she is said to have been assumed into heaven. He will celebrate mass nearby.

* ISTANBUL

Benedict then flies to Istanbul to meet the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomew I, whose invitation was the reason for the trip. He will also visit the Blue Mosque.

* HAGIA SOPHIA

The most delicate moment of the visit is on Thursday, when he goes to the ancient church, now a museum, which is regarded as one of the greatest buildings in the world. Many nationalists and Islamists will be watching keenly: if the Pope prays here (which is forbidden), it will confirm their grimmest suspicions about his desire to rebuild the Byzantine empire.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat