“The messages given by the Pope were of peace, brotherhood and tolerance among religions. But his visits were very political,” writes Ercan Sezgin for Gazete Karınca.
Religion and state affairs have never been separated as the secularists claim, religions either ruled by political power or were used and governed by political powers. For this reason, religions have never been independent from the political sphere. The influence of religions, sects, congregations and sects on the political power is more than how it may at first appear.
Religions, sects and various religious communities are at the centre of the political field, especially when it comes to the Middle East.
Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region should be evaluated within this framework.
The Pope has been greeted by the Iraq and Kurdistan administrations with great pomp and ceremony. Such a greeting was more than any political leader could imagine to see. Many days before the Pope arrived the preparations began. The bazaars of Baghdad, Erbil (Hewler) and Mosul were decorated with the photographs of the Pope.
When I saw these, I wondered if a Middle Eastern religious figure would go to Europe, would they be welcomed like that. What would it be like if Sistani visited Europe? It is unimaginiable that he would be greeted with such ceremonies.
Those who hosted the Pope in Iraq and the Kurdistan region were political leaders. In Iraq, Prime Minister Mustafa Kazımi welcomed the Pope with music and songs. Apparently Kazımi likes musical greetings. In the Kurdistan Region, President Nechirvan Barzani and Prime Minister Masrour Barzani welcomed the Pope. In addition, Iraqi President Barhem Salih and Massoud Barzani, the Chair of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) were among those political leaders the Pope visited. The day the Pope visited the country was declared a National Day of Tolerance by Mustafa Kazimi. And again, after the visit, Kazimi called for a national dialogue with the Kurdistan region for the solution of their problems. This has been the impact of the visit on politics as well.
The messages given by the Pope were about peace, brotherhood and tolerance among religions. But his visits were very political. His visit to Sistani, the leader of the Shiite community felt a lot like politics. Sistani is the representative of the Arab Shiites. Whilst the Arab Shiites in Iraq evaluated the Pope’s visit positively, the pro-Iranian Shiites reacted against the visit. After the missiles launched at Erbil before the pope’s visit, Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadr movement, had said that this aimed to cancel the Pope’s visit to Iraq. Again, the attacks on American bases before the visit should also be evaluated within this perspective. The city of Qom and Iranian Shiites were excluded from the scope of this visit.
The Pope also met with representatives of many religions as well as political figures. A ritual was held at the Erbil Stadiaum for all Christians in Iraq. He visited the church destroyed by the ISIS in Mosul. He also met with representatives of Kakayî, Zerdeştî and Yazidi people in the city of Ur. However, he skipped the Yazidi city Sinjar (Shengal) during his visit and this is the result of a certain policy. Although the Pope shared messages regarding the Yazidi massacre, he did not visit Sinjar, which is the holy city of Yazidis. How Sacred the city Ur is, that sacred Sinjar is the same to the Yazidis. When we consider all these observations all together, the Pope’s visit to Iraq, the rituals, the cities he visited and the messages he gave were political as well as religious.