Pope calls Armenian massacre first genocide of 20th century, disappoints Turkey

By Steve Scherer

Pope Francis described the massacre of as many as 1.5 million
Armenians as "the first genocide of the 20th century" at a 100th
anniversary Mass on Sunday, prompting Turkey to summon the Holy See's
ambassador in Ankara in protest.

Muslim Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians died in clashes
with Ottoman soldiers beginning in 1915, when Armenia was part of the
empire ruled from Istanbul, but denies hundreds of thousands were
killed and that this amounted to genocide.

It was the first time a pope has publicly pronounced the word
"genocide" for the massacre, repeating a term used by some European
and South American countries but avoided by the United States and some
others to maintain good relations with an important ally.

In 2001, Pope John Paul II and Armenian Apostolic Church Supreme
Patriarch Kerekin II called it "the first genocide of the 20th
century" in a joint written statement.

Francis, who has disregarded many aspects of protocol since becoming
pope two years ago, uttered the phrase during a private meeting at the
Vatican with an Armenian delegation in 2013, prompting a strong
protest from Ankara.

As the archbishop of Buenos Aires before becoming the leader of the
world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Jorge Maria Bergoglio had already
publicly characterised the mass killings as genocide.

After Francis's remarks on Sunday, Turkey swiftly summoned the
Vatican's ambassador in Ankara to protest and seek an explanation, a
senior official told Reuters. The foreign ministry was expected to
make a statement later in the day.

In November, the Argentine-born pontiff made an official visit to
Turkey as part of his efforts to solidify relations with moderate
Muslim states.


At the start of the Armenian rite Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope
Francis described the "senseless slaughter" of 100 years ago as "the
first genocide of the 20th century", which was followed by "Nazism and

"It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honour their memory, for
whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester.
Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding
without bandaging it!" he said.

Francis's comments were also published by Armenian President Serzh
Sargyan's office on Sunday.

"We are deeply grateful to His Holiness Pope Francis for the idea of
this unprecedented liturgy ... which symbolizes our solidarity with the
people of the Christian world," Sargyan said in a speech at a Vatican
dinner on Saturday evening.

The pope said genocide continues today against Christians "who, on
account of their faith in Christ or their ethnic origin, are publicly
and ruthlessly put to death - decapitated, crucified, burned alive -
or forced to leave their homeland."

Islamic State insurgents have persecuted Shi'ite Muslims, Christians
and others who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam
as they carved a self-declared caliphate out of swathes of Syria and
Iraq, which share borders with Turkey.

Francis also urged reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, and
between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Caucasus mountain
region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The appeal came in a letter handed out
during a meeting after the Mass to Sargyan and the three most
important Armenian church patriarchs present.