Pope Francis speaks of “genocide” in Armenia visit, draws Ankara's ire

By bne IntelliNews June 27, 2016

While on a three-day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis described the 1915 killings of Armenians in Ottoman-era Turkey as a genocide, prompting Ankara’s ire.

The Pope's remark, using the term “genocide”, came on June 24 during an address at the presidential palace in Yerevan, at the start of his trip to the country. In a discussion with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, the pontiff veered off from his prepared text to call the pogroms against 1.5mn Armenians during World War I a “genocide”. This is the second time he refers to the event as a genocide publicly. Turkey previously recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for ten months in 2015 after the pope used the term during a ceremony in April 2015.

The events that unfolded in 1915 remain a subject of bitter controversy between Armenia and Turkey, which do not have official trade ties. Turkish governments have negated that the persecution of Armenians were a genocide, calling instead for further investigation into archives from that period. The German's parliament passing of a bill declaring the killings a genocide in June has caused tensions to escalate between Berlin and Ankara.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli responded promptly to the Pope’s latest use of the term, calling it “unfortunate”. “It is unfortunately possible to see all the reflections and traces of Crusader mentality in the actions of the papacy and the pope,” he said.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told a news conference on June 25 that the pontiff meant no ill will towards Turkey, adding that the official had clearly called for a reconciliation between the two countries and that the Pope was no crusader.  

Pope Francis focused his visit to Armenia between June 24 and June 26 on the country's relations with its neighbours, calling for reconciliation with Turkey and Azerbaijan. During his trip, the pontiff met with various officials, attended mass at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral and visited a memorial of the Armenian genocide.

In a joint press statement, the pontiff and Catholicos Karekin, leader of Armenia's Apostolic Church, decried the “crisis of the family in many countries” as a result of secularism, and reiterated that marriage is a unity between man and woman. Azerbaijan and Armenia are among the worst countries in Europe for members of sexual minorities according to Rainbow Europe, although the gay community has also faced a backlash in the more liberal Georgia. Such official statements will do little to appease the popular disdain towards the group.

Armenia's catholic population is small at just 280,000, or less than 10% of its population, but the country prides itself as the first Christian country in the world and religion is highly revered still. The majority of Armenians are Christian Orthodox.

Pope Francis will visit Azerbaijan, which is predominantly Muslim and with which Armenia is in conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Georgia, which is also Christian Orthodox, in the autumn. 

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