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Istanbul'dam merhaba

  • Rabiya Parekh
  • 27 Nov 06, 10:00 AM

Istanbul 'dam hpinize iyi guler... Which translates as hello from Istanbul.. But that's where our command of the Turkish language ends I'm afraid..

We've just set up in one of Istanbuls few art galleries, the Piramid Sadat. Owned by writer and artist Bedri Baykam, it's just opened and as we soak in the psychedelic wall coverings and middle eastern trance music in Cafe 57, it seems like a good a time as any to give you an update on our trip.

Richard and I arrived in Turkeys second largest city around 8 o'clock on Sunday evening and were hard pressed to find people not talking about the Pope's forthcoming visit to the city this week.

From the majority Muslim population here, it's not a warm welcome. On Sunday 20,000 protestors took to the streets of Istanbul urging him not to come.

The protest was organised by the pro-Islamic Saadat Party. Protestors held placards that showed caricatures of the Pope and his Christian Orthodox counterpart Bartholomew I scheming together to recreate the Byzantine empire. Another read "The Pope - the man who stuck out his tongue at the Prophet Mohamed and Islam."

The objection to his visit stems from comments made by the Papal back in September. Muslims across the world were angered and offended by a quote the Pope used in a speech by a Byzantine emperor, criticising Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.

Although it was a peaceful protest here yesterday, the authorities are not leaving anything to chance. 4,000 Turkish Police watched over the demonstration and during the Pope's four day tour, there will be more police on stand-by. Rooftop snipers will be among the 12,000 police deployed in Istanbul and the areas the Pope will visit. It's telling that it's more than were present when the US President George Bush was in Turkey in 2004 for a NATO summit.

Clearly recognising how difficult this trip will be for some Turks, the Pope is doing what he can to ease the tension. In his weekly address to crowds in St Peters Square on Sunday, he expressed esteem and friendship for Turks and their leaders and asked for prayers for his pilgrimage to Turkey. But will it be enough?

The authorities here are expecting more demonstrations before he arrives on Tuesday, and there certainly seems to be nerves about the Pope's visit to Istanbuls' Blue Mosque. It's a highly symbolic occasion, as it will be his first visit to a mosque since becoming pontiff in 2005. Richard and I will be making our way over to the Mosque in a while to find out how people there are feeling about it, will let you know what they say.

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