Huffington Post UK
April 12 2015

Pope Francis Sparks Diplomatic Incident With Turkey After Calling WWI
Slaughter Of Armenians A 'Genocide'

Turkey says it is "greatly disappointed" with the Vatican and had lost
trust in relations, after Pope Francis called the slaughter of
Armenians by Ottoman Turks "the first genocide of the 20th century."

Francis sparked a diplomatic incident on Sunday with his comments at a
Mass marking the centenary of the slaughter from 1915, when the
Ottoman government killed Armenian subjects living in what is now
present-day Turkey.

The event is not recognised as a genocide by some countries, such as
Italy and the United States, who avoid using the word as they are
close allies with Turkey. But Pope Francis, who has close ties to the
Armenian community, urged the international community to recognise the
killings as a genocide.

Turkey - which denies a genocide took place - immediately summoned the
Vatican ambassador and its Foreign Ministry said that it had expressed
"great disappointment and sadness."

The country said in a statement that the Pope's message had
contradicted his message of peace and dialogue that had taken place
during a visit to Turkey in November.

The Turkish statement also called the Pope's message discriminatory,
because he only mentioned the pains suffered by Christian Armenians,
and not Muslims and other religious groups.

Francis, who has close ties to the Armenian community from his days in
Argentina, defended his pronouncement by saying it was his duty to
honour the memory of the innocent men, women and children who were
"senselessly" murdered by Ottoman Turks 100 years ago this month.

"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 in St. Peter's Basilica honoring the centenary of the

In a subsequent message directed to all Armenians, Francis called on
all heads of state and international organizations to recognise the
truth of what transpired and oppose such crimes "without ceding to
ambiguity or compromise."

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by
Ottoman Turks from around 1915, 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 recogniding the Armenian massacre as genocide.

Turkey's embassy to the Holy See canceled a planned news conference
for Sunday, presumably after learning that the pope would utter the
word "genocide" despite its objections.

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

Francis' words on the Armenian massacre were welcomed by the head of
the Armenian Apostolic Church, Aram I, who thanked thank Francis for
his clear condemnation and recall 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.

Aram said the Armenian cause is a cause of justice, and that justice
is a gift of God. "Therefore, the violation of justice is a sin
against God," he said.

The pope's declaration prompted mixed reactions in the streets in
Istanbul. 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."

Several European countries - including Wales, Scotland and Northern
Ireland, but not the Westminster government - recognise the massacres
as genocide.

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 significant: he uttered
the words during an Armenian rite Mass in St. Peter's Basilica marking
the 100th anniversary of the slaughter, alongside the Armenian
Catholic patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, Armenian Christian
church leaders and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, 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.

In his remarks on Sunday, Francis said the Armenian slaughter was the
first of three "massive and unprecedented" genocides last century that
was followed by the Holocaust and Stalinism. He said other mass
killings had followed, including in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and

"It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes
caused by the law of terror, so that today too there are those who
attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few and with the
complicit silence of others who simply stand by," he said.

Francis has frequently denounced the "complicit silence" of the world
community in the face of the modern-day slaughter of Christians and
other religious minorities by Islamic extremists.

During Sunday's Mass, Francis also honoured the Armenian community at
the start of the Mass by pronouncing a 10th-century Armenian mystic,
St. Gregory of Narek, a doctor of the church. Only 35 people have been
given the title, which is reserved for those whose writings have
greatly served the universal church.

The Mass was rich in traditional Armenian music, with haunting hymns
sung. Children dressed in traditional costumes presented the gifts at
the altar, which was bathed in a cloud of incense.