TURKEY SUMMONS VATICAN ENVOY AFTER POPE DESCRIBES ARMENIAN “GENOCIDE”
Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Germany
April 12, 2015 Sunday 2:00 PM EST
By Alvise Armellini and Shabtai Gold, dpa
Vatican City (dpa) – Armenians were the victims of “the first genocide
of the 20th century,” Pope Francis said Sunday, prompting Turkey’s
Foreign Ministry to summon the Vatican envoy to Ankara.
Similar remarks from the Catholic leadership in the past have
triggered protests from Turkey, which denies that the mass
deportation of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I
was genocide. Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed.
“In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive
and unprecedented tragedies,” Francis said at the start of a special
remembrance mass in St Peter’s Basilica for the 1915-16 mass slaughter
of the Armenians.
“The first, which is widely considered the first genocide of the 20th
century, struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation,
as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and
Greeks,” the pontiff said.
Francis said the other two genocides of the last century “were
perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism” and went on to say the world
was in the midst of another genocide, the persecution of Christians
in the Middle East.
The leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Supreme Patriarch Karekin
II, thanked the pope at the end an elaborate service that lasted two
and a half hours.
“The Armenian genocide is an unforgettable and undeniable fact of
history, deeply rooted in the annals of modern history and in the
common consciousness of the Armenian people. Therefore, any attempt to
erase it from history and from our common memory is doomed to fail,”
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan also attended the mass at the
“With these celebrations in St Peter’s, the Holy Father has sent
a vigorous signal to the international community,” namely “that
uncondemned genocides represent a danger for all of humanity,” he
told Italian news agency ANSA.
Official commemorations of the massacres are to take place on April
24 in Armenia. Memorial events are also scheduled in Istanbul, where
on that day in 1915 more than 200 Armenian community leaders were
rounded up by police to be deported.
“It is the responsibility not only of the Armenian people and the
universal Church to recall all that has taken place, but of the
entire human family,” the pope said in a written message delivered
to Armenian religious and political leaders after mass.
He also prayed for Armenia and Turkey to make amends.
“May God 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 Francis, a reference to a contested Armenian
enclave in Azerbaijan.
Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, says both Turks and
Armenians were killed in unrest during the war and accuses Armenia
of inflating the number of people who died. The deportations were
said to be for security reasons.
It is not the first time that the Vatican has used the word “genocide”
to describe the events of 100 years ago.
On Sunday, the pope quoted a joint 2000 declaration from his
predecessor, Saint John Paul II, and Karekin II. Francis used the same
formulation in a June 2013 meeting with Armenian representatives at
At the time, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the papal remarks
as “unacceptable” and warned the Vatican against “making steps that
could have irreparable consequences on our ties.”
“What is expected from the papacy, under the responsibility of its
spiritual office, is to contribute to world peace instead of raising
animosity over historical events,” the ministry added.
In Sunday’s mass, which was attended by Armenian President Serzh
Sargsyan, Francis also gave a special title to Saint Gregory of Narek,
a medieval monk seen as the greatest poet and mystic of the Armenian
He was elevated to the position of a doctor of the Church, making
him one of only 36 saintly masters of Catholic teaching, along with
other well-known religious figures such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and
Gregory was born from a family of writers in around 950 and died about
55 years later. He is chiefly remembered for the Book of Lamentations,
a compendium of 95 prayers considered a gem of Christian literature.
The monastery where he lived, as well as his grave, were destroyed
during the Armenian genocide.