POPE FRANCIS's use of the word "genocide" to characterise the
killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey 100 years
ago has led to a diplomatic row between Ankara and the Vatican, and
has reawakened the controversy surrounding those events.
Speaking before a mass at St Peter's, in Rome, the Pope
described the slaughter of the Armenians as "the first genocide of
the 20th century. . . The remaining two were perpetrated by Nazism
and Stalinism. And, more recently, there have been other mass
killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi, and Bosnia."
It was his duty, he said, to honour the memories of those who
were killed, because "concealing or denying evil is like allowing a
wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it."
In a separate message to the worldwide Armenian community, the
Pope spoke of "that horrific massacre which was a true martyrdom of
your people, in which many innocent people died as confessors and
martyrs for the name of Christ.
"Even today, there is not an Armenian family untouched by the
loss of loved ones due to that tragedy: it truly was Metz
Yeghern - the 'Great Evil' - as it is known by Armenians. On
this anniversary, I feel a great closeness to your people, and I
wish to unite myself spiritually to the prayers which rise up from
your hearts, your families, and your communities."
Turkey responded by summoning the Vatican's ambassador in Ankara
to protest, saying that the government felt "great disappointment
and sadness" at his remarks. The Turkish Foreign Ministry
criticised Pope Francis, saying that he had ignored "the atrocities
suffered by the Turkish and Muslim peoples who lost their
The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in
a statement to a business group on Tuesday: "We will not
allow historical incidents to be taken out of their genuine context
and be used as tool to campaign against our
"I condemn the Pope and would like to warn him not to make
similar mistakes again."
Away from the political arguments, however, some ordinary
Turkish people have dismissed the exchange, and are
calling for history to be left to rest.
The controversy over the 1915 killings is one of the many
examples in the Middle East of animosity between communities
because of differing interpretations of history: the differences
between the Israelis and Palestinians are perhaps the most obvious
Although Turkey admits that many Armenians died, it says that
the number was about half a million. The Turkish version is that
the deaths resulted from a conflict during the First World War,
when Armenians allegedly sought to challenge Ottoman rule.
Turkey has always insisted that Muslims, too, were killed, and
that Armenians were not deliberately slaughtered because they were
Christians. Most historians disagree, and believe that the
Armenians were victims of ethnic cleansing on a mass scale.
There seems little prospect of Turkish attitudes' changing,
particularly under the current Islamist-leaning regime. Turkey is
also less likely than before to sympathise with the current plight
of Christians in the Middle East, who face threats from jihadist
Islamists in several states.
In his address, Pope Francis referred to the challenges facing
the region's Christians. Today, he said, "we are experiencing a
sort of genocide created by a general and collective indifference,
by the complicit silence of Cain."
'Centenary of the
Armenian massacres' - Letters