Pope refutes Turkish criticism on ‘genocide’
YEREVAN – ReutersThe Vatican has refuted Turkey’s remarks that Pope Francis had a “Crusader mentality” after he used the word “genocide” to describe the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces a century ago.
“The pope is on no crusade. He is not trying to organize wars or build walls but he wants to build bridges,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters. “He has not said a word against the Turkish people.”
The pope on June 24 denounced the World War I killing of Armenians as genocide, prompting Turkey’s anger.
“Sadly this tragedy, this genocide, was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century,” the pope said at the presidential palace in Yerevan.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said on June 25 that it was “very unfortunate” the pope had used the word, adding: “It is unfortunately possible to see all the reflections and traces of a Crusader mentality in the actions of the papacy and the pope.”
Pope Francis, who returned to Rome on June 26 after visiting a monastery in Armenia near the border with Turkey, first used the word last year during a ceremony at the Vatican. An infuriated Turkey responded by recalling its ambassador to the Vatican and keeping him away for 10 months.
Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I as a result of civil strife triggered in part by Armenians siding with invading Russian troops, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute genocide. It also says many Muslim Turks perished at that time.
On June 26, at the last main event of his three-day trip to Armenia, Pope Francis again made reference to the killings, paying homage to “the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith.”
Unusually for the pope, he was a guest in a Christian liturgy at the Holy Etchmiadzin, the headquarters of the Armenian Church near Yerevan, where someone else called “His Holiness” presided.
The “divine liturgy” was presided over by Catholicos Karekin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which split from Rome over a theological dispute in the fifth century and is part of the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
The pope, who delighted his hosts by referring several times to the killings and visiting Yerevan’s genocide memorial, has urged Armenia and Turkey to seek reconciliation and to shun “the illusory power of vengeance.”
“May God bless your future and grant that the people of Armenia and Turkey take up again the path of reconciliation, and may peace also spring forth in Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Pope Francis, in regards to the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which started in the early 1990s and has been somewhat partially frozen since a cease-fire in 1994.