Turkey reacts angrily to Pope’s Armenia ‘genocide’ remarks

Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Rome and summoned the papal nuncio in Ankara to express its disapproval at Pope Francis’ reference to the death of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1918 as “genocide”.

Speaking before concelebrating Mass for the Centenary of Armenian Martyrdom, Pope Francis greeted the many Armenians present, saying that humanity has lived through “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” in the last hundred years, the first of which, which he said was “generally considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th Century”, struck the Armenian people.

In saying this, he drew from a 2001 joint declaration signed by Pope St John Paul II and Patriarch Catholicos Karekin II of Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church, saying, “The extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th Century, and the subsequent annihilation of thousands under the former totalitarian regime are tragedies that still live in the memory of the present-day generation.”

Pope Francis said the other great 20th-Century tragedies were those “perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism,” and more recently the “mass exterminations” experienced in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia.

Lamenting how we are even today “experiencing a kind of genocide created by general and collective indifference”, the Pontiff said historical atrocities from the past must be recognised rather than denied if true reconciliation and healing is to come to the world. “Concealing or denying evil is like letting a wound keep bleeding without treating it,” he said.

Rejecting accusations of genocide, Turkey says both Turks and Armenians suffered many casualties during the war, with most deaths being due to disease and famine during the “relocation process”.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Pope had used “inappropriate” and “one-sided” language, claiming that his comments would fuel racism and anti-Turkish sentiment. “Only highlighting one side’s suffering during wartime and discriminating the others’ pain is not appropriate for the Pope,” he said. 

The Mass was concelebrated by Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, and saw the formal proclamation of the Armenian St Gregory of Narek as a Doctor of the Church.