Vatican City's Istanbul representative Georges Markovitch is a shining star among Istanbul's consulates. He has been at his job for around the last thirty years. In an encounter with Erdogan one time, he said "I want to become a Turkish citizen."
Erdogan studies this request, and finding that it's possible, has the police deliver Markovitch's new Turkish identity papers straight to his door. It was a thoughtful jest, perfectly placed.
Actually, I happened to witness this event, as I was visiting Senior Markovitch when the police came with his papers.
In this way, there are actually warm relations between Ankara and Vatican City.
The story of the missed opportunity starts this way: Greek Fener Patriarch Bartholomeus invites the Pope to Turkey to participate in a mass on November 30. The Pope is not just a religious leader, but also the Vatican State President. Now, according to protocol, when one state president visits another country, there is an official invitation required from that country. It does not matter why the visit is occuring.
Vatican City's Istanbul representative Georges Markovitch tries hard to negotiate this visit by the Pope to Turkey. And Ankara thinks carefully. In the end, President Sezer issues an official invitation to the Pope, but for next year, 2006. And in this way, Turkey misses a serious opportunity. The sad thing is, no one is evem aware of it, as the missed opportunity swirls around hidden in all the discussion of whether the Pope might or might not try to pray at the Hagia Sophia.
October 3 and Hatay
The EU accession talks for Turkey start on October 3. And this weeekend in Hatay, there is a "Meeting of Civilizations," which will really be a meeting by religious leaders from all over the world.
At the same time, there is a project which has been started by the United Nations which will open the path to more meetings of civilizations. It is a wide ranging project, expected to open up dialogue between religions, artistic fields, science, and culture. And it will all carry the stamp of the UN. Apparently, Pope Benedict XVI is interested in this project, and is following it closely.
This is where it gets important: the Pope has made, in previous months, statements going against Turkey's EU membership. A visit this fall to Ankara would open the way to him reevaluating these views. Maybe he still wouldn't look too warmly on an EU-Turkey relationship. But the crucial thing is that, as the Pope, he would be able to exam the details while here. Which could really be in Turkey's favor. And just as we have begun accession talks on October 3.
But unfortunately, it's getting late. Ridiculous arguments about whether he should or should not pray in the Hagia Sophia instead dominate the agenda. And we cannot seem to get in line with either the United Nations project nor the Meeting of Civilizations happening in Hatay.
In a typically bureaucratic way, with no confidence in ourselves, like a victim which looks out at the world from a narrow window, we put off the visit by the Pope until next year.
And this is how we let this chance escape from us.