Turkish government protest over Pope Francis Armenian ‘genocide’ claim

April 12, 2015 4:53 pm




criticise
for using the word “genocide” to describe the mass killing of Armenians
under Ottoman rule in World War 1.
Ankara immediately summoned the Vatican’s envoy after the made the comments at a service in Rome.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister described it as “far from the historical reality”.
Armenia
and many historians say up to 1.5 million people were killed by Ottoman
forces in 1915. Turkey has always disputed the number of dead.
The dispute has continued to sour relations between Armenia and Turkey.
Pope Francis on Sunday called the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman
Turks “the first genocide of the 20th century” and urged the
international community to recognize it as such, sparking a diplomatic
rift with Turkey at a delicate time in Christian-Muslim relations.
Armenian
President Serge Sarkisian, who was on hand to mark the 100th
anniversary of the slaughter at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, praised
the pope for calling a spade a spade in an interview with The Associated
Press. But Turkey, which has long denied a genocide took place,
recalled its ambassador to the Holy See in protest.
“The pope’s
statement, which is far from historic and legal truths, is
unacceptable,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted.
“Religious positions are not places where unfounded claims are made and
hatred is stirred.”
Francis, who has close ties to the Armenian
community from his days in Argentina, defended his pronouncement by
saying it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women
and children who were “senselessly” murdered by Ottoman Turks.

“Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep
bleeding without bandaging it,” he said at the start of a Mass in the
Armenian Catholic rite honoring the centenary.
In a subsequent
message directed to all Armenians, Francis called on all heads of state
and international organizations to recognize the truth of what
transpired to prevent such “horrors” from happening again, and to oppose
such crimes “without ceding to ambiguity or compromise.”
Historians
estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks
around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as
the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey, however, has
insisted that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were
victims of civil war and unrest, not genocide. It has fiercely lobbied
to prevent countries, including the Holy See, from officially
recognizing the Armenian massacre as genocide.
Turkey’s embassy
to the Holy See canceled a planned conference for Sunday,
presumably after learning that the pope would utter the word “genocide”
over its objections. Instead, the Foreign Ministry in Ankara summoned
the Vatican’s envoy, and then announced it was recalling its own
ambassador to the Vatican for consultations.
In a statement, it
said the Turkish people would not recognize the pope’s statement “which
is controversial in every aspect, which is based on prejudice, which
distorts history and reduces the pains suffered in Anatolia under the
conditions of the First World War to members of just one religion.”
Francis’
words had a more positive effect in St. Peters, where the head of the
Armenian Apostolic Church, Aram I thanked Francis for his clear
condemnation and recalled that “genocide” is a crime against humanity
that requires reparation.
“International law spells out clearly
that condemnation, recognition and reparation of a genocide are closely
interconnected,” Aram said in English at the end of the Mass to applause
from the pews, where many wept.
In an interview with the AP
after the Mass, the Armenian president, Sarkisian, praised Francis for
“calling things by their names.”
He acknowledged the reparation
issue, but said “for our people, the primary issue is universal
recognition of the Armenian genocide, including recognition by Turkey.”
He
dismissed Turkish calls for joint research into what transpired, saying
researchers and commissions have already come to the conclusion and
there is “no doubt at all that what happened was a genocide.”
Several
European countries recognize the massacres as genocide, though Italy
and the United States, for example, have avoided using the term
officially given the importance they place on Turkey as an ally.
The
Holy See, too, places great importance in its relationship with the
moderate Muslim nation, especially as it demands Muslim leaders condemn
the slaughter of Christians by Muslim extremists in neighboring Iraq and
Syria.
But Francis’ willingness to rile Ankara with his words
showed once again that he has few qualms about taking diplomatic risks
for issues close to his heart. He took a similar risk by inviting the
Israeli and Palestinian presidents to pray together for peace at the
Vatican – a summit that was followed by the outbreak of fighting in the
Gaza Strip.
Francis is not the first pope to call the massacre a
genocide. In his remarks, Francis cited a 2001 declaration signed by St.
John Paul II and the Armenian church leader, Karenkin II, which said
the deaths were considered “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
But
the context of Francis’ pronunciation was different and significant: He
uttered the words during an Armenian rite Mass in St. Peter’s marking
the 100th anniversary of the slaughter, alongside the Armenian Catholic
patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, Armenian Christian church leaders
and Sarkisian, who sat in a place of honor in the basilica.
The
definition of genocide has long been contentious. The United Nations in
1948 defined genocide as killing and other acts intended to destroy a
national, ethnic, racial or religious group, but many dispute which mass
killings should be called genocide and whether the terms of the UN
convention on genocide can be applied retroactively.
Reaction to the pope’s declaration on the streets in Istanbul was mixed. Some said they supported it, but others did not agree.
“I
don’t support the word genocide being used by a great religious figure
who has many followers,” said Mucahit Yucedal, 25. “Genocide is a
serious allegation.”

‘Bleeding wound’

The
Pope made the comments at a Mass in the Armenian Catholic rite at
Peter’s Basilica, attended by the Armenian president and church leaders.
He said that humanity had lived through “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” in the last century.
“The
first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th
Century’, struck your own Armenian people,” he said, in a form of words
used by a declaration by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
Pope Francis
also referred to the crimes “perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism” and
said other genocides had followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and
Bosnia.
He said it was his duty to honour the memories of those who were killed.
“Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” the Pope added.
The
ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara on Sunday,
but the Turkish government has yet to make an official statement on
Francis’ comments.
The pontiff used the word “genocide” to
describe the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I.
He made the controversial remarks during a Sunday solemn mass in Saint
Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis arrives at St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican Sunday, April 12, 2015. (AP Photo)
Referring to a statement signed by John Paul II
and the Armenian patriarch in 2001, Francis said, “The first, which is
widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century’, struck your
own Armenian people.”
The 78-year-old head of the Roman Catholic
Church added, “We recall the centenary of that tragic event, that
immense and senseless slaughter whose cruelty your forebears had to
endure.”
“It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honor their
memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to
fester,” Francis said.
Pope said he felt obliged to honor the
memory of innocent men, women, children, priests and bishops, who were
‘senselessly’ murdered.
Ankara rejects the term “genocide” and
instead says the 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians, and at least as many
Turks, who perished between 1915 and 1917 were the casualties of World
War I.
Armenia, however, says up to 1.5 million of its people were killed and demands that their death be recognized as genocide.
Armenia, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay formally recognize the incident as genocide.

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