Turkish nationalist press claim Pope went to Iraq to re-Christianise the region

On the New Dawn newspaper, Prof Özcan Güngör, of Ankara University, talks about the “Theo-strategy of the Pope's visit to Iraq”. In a long article illustrated by a cartoon he cites Daesh (Islamic State) as a force that acted through means provided by “Western imperialism”. For the New Era newspaper, the Vatican is the centre of FETÖ, a putative organisation accused by Ankara of organising the failed 2016 coup.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis' visit to Iraq is part of a strategy aimed at re-Christianising the region, by widening divisions within the Shia world, this according to some Turkish media 

It was to be expected that the Pope's visit would not have pleased all Muslims. The harshest criticism appeared in Yeni Şafak (New Dawn), a newspaper openly aligned with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and with “good relations” with the government. In the past, the paper has been accused of inciting hatred against minorities and opposition groups.

On New Dawn, Professor Özcan Güngör, of the Ankara University, assesses the Pope's visit to Iraq under the title “Theo-strategy of the Pope's visit to Iraq”.

The long article illustrated by the cartoon reproduced here evaluates “the strategies” from “historical, sociological and political” points of view in which Daesh (Islamic State group) is seen as operating as a force acting with means provided by “Western imperialism”.

The first point is the “support for the Christian people who are in the minority and are experiencing many difficulties.”

“The second point concerns the especially selected places visited. It is evident that there are theo-strategic objectives behind the visits to cities such as Ur and Qaraqosh”, “especially Nineveh, which is mentioned in the Bible.”

“It is clear that there are plans to revive and remember identity codes and update their place in the common memory in the name of Christianity. The significance of the visit to these regions can be seen more clearly when one considers that the new mission of the Catholic Church in the third millennium requires the Christianisation of these regions.”

“The third point is the Pope's preference for the Shiism of the Nadjaf school over the Qom school ... In a way, this can be seen as a strategic step reinforcing the separation between Shias, increasing existing competition by upsetting the balance between groups and preparing the ground for conflict.”

The reference is to the fact that Al-Sistani, who met Francis, states that religious leaders should not deal with politics, a position evidently different from that of Iran’s ayatollahs.

“Pope Francis stands out as someone who ‘believes that good action is important’ rather than defending theological issues and dogmatic beliefs. This is why this visit is appropriate from the point of view of global positioning and perception management.”

Finally, “it is possible to avoid stigmatising all Muslims with a potential terrorist perception through terrorist organisations like DAESH, supported by numerous technical and military equipment from western imperialist countries, with the Pope's messages of ‘fraternity’.

“Another objective of the Pope's visit to Iraq is to develop activities of dialogue. We can say that since the time of Pope John Paul II this argument has long been expressed under the name of ‘dialogue in life’, but no concrete attempt has been made to put an end to the tears, oppression, conflicts and wars that continue throughout the world, so far the 'Vatican dialogues' have not worked very well.”

In the same newspaper, Hasan Ozturk writes that “Surely the Pope came to the area to do with words what the invasion of America and its partners could not do with weapons. Since they know very well how to tear the Islamic world to pieces, they can impose on us whatever they want.”

For his part, Yenicag, (New Era), another nationalist newspaper, states that “Pope Francis, spiritual leader of the Catholic world, has become the first pope to visit Iraq. The Pope's four-day trip to Iraq, conducted with a large delegation of guards and journalists, is closely followed by the world.”

Dr Lütfü Özşahin commented on this visit on CNN Türk with surprising views.  He “drew attention to the fact that the Pope is both a religious and a political figure. He said the Pope's visit had more than religious political significance and that the Vatican's meeting with Al-Sistani, the Shia leader in Iraq, was a message to Iran.”

He then focused attention on the “interreligious dialogue” to argue that “One of the centres of FETÖ is the Vatican”. FETÖ, an acronym for “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation”, is the name the Turkish government has given to the putative organisation of Fethullah Gülen, a former ally of Erdoğan, now a refugee in the United States whom Turkish authorities accuse of masterminding the failed 2016 coup.

Lütfullah Göktaş, Turkish ambassador to the Vatican, also waded into the issue. Cited by Anadolu, the Turkish state news agency, he said that “Pope Francis wants to show his solidarity with the Christians of Iraq. Instability and terror have alienated Christians. The total number of Christians is now between 200,000 and 300,000.

“The Iraqi administration is working to return seized property and somehow compensate for the damage. The Vatican is concerned about these efforts. With this visit, the Pope also wants to show that he stands with Christians”.

“The problems that the Vatican complains about are the product of instability,” Göktaş added. “Turkey is a country that underlines at every opportunity the importance of stability in the region. The lack of authority leads to the emergence of terrorist groups. Sectarianism brings peace to no one. The Pope's visit to Iraq will once again help remind people of this truth.” (FP)