Turkey slams pope’s remarks on Armenian genocide
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Ankara has hit back at Pope Francis’s description of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians as “the first genocide of the 20th century”, saying the pontiff’s words were "far from the historical reality".
Turkey said Sunday it was "deeply sorry and disappointed" that Francis had used the word “genocide” earlier in the day when marking the centenary of the slaughter of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey's Foreign Ministry said it had recalled its ambassador to the Vatican "for consultations", adding that the pope's comments were "null and void" to the Turkish people.
Francis, who has close ties to the Armenian community from his days in Argentina, said Sunday morning that it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women, children, priests and bishops who were “senselessly” murdered.
“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.
The pontiff, who has disregarded many aspects of protocol since becoming pope two years ago, uttered a similar phrase during a private meeting at the Vatican with an Armenian delegation in 2013, prompting a strong protest from Ankara.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio had already publicly described the killings as genocide before he was elected leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics in 2013.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.
While accepting that many Christian Armenians died in clashes with Ottoman soldiers, Turkey denies the killings constituted genocide, saying that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Several European countries recognize the massacres as genocide, though Italy and the United States have avoided using the term officially, given the importance they place on Turkey as an ally.
Francis's comments were also published by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan's office on Sunday.
"We are deeply grateful to His Holiness Pope Francis for the idea of this unprecedented liturgy ... which symbolises our solidarity with the people of the Christian world," Sarksyan said in a speech at a Vatican dinner on Saturday evening.
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 Sarksyan and the three most important Armenian church leaders present.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
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