Turkey recalls ambassador after Pope's Armenia genocide comment
VATICAN CITY (AP):
Pope Francis yesterday called the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks "the first genocide of the 20th century" and urged the international community to recognise it as such, sparking a diplomatic rift with Turkey at a delicate time in Christian-Muslim relations.
Armenian President Serge Sarkisian, who was on hand to mark the 100th anniversary of the slaughter at a Mass in St Peter's Basilica, praised the pope for calling a spade a spade in an interview with The Associated Press. But Turkey, which has long denied a genocide took place, recalled its ambassador to the Holy See in protest.
"The pope's statement, which is far from historic and legal truths, is unacceptable," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted.
"Religious positions are not places where unfounded claims are made and hatred is stirred."
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.
"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 honouring the centenary.
In a subsequent message directed to all Armenians, Francis called on all heads of state and international organisations to recognise the truth of what transpired to prevent such "horrors" from happening again, and to oppose such crimes "without ceding to ambiguity or compromise".
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.
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 recognising the Armenian massacre as genocide.
Turkey's embassy to the Holy See cancelled a planned news conference for Sunday, presumably after learning that the pope would utter the word "genocide" over its objections. Instead, the foreign ministry in Ankara summoned the Vatican's envoy, and then announced it was recalling its own ambassador to the Vatican for consultations.
In a statement, it said the Turkish people would not recognise the pope's statement "which is controversial in every aspect, which is based on prejudice, which distorts history and reduces the pains suffered in Anatolia under the conditions of the First World War to members of just one religion."
Francis' words had a more positive effect in St Peter's, where the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Aram I, thanked Francis for his clear condemnation and recalled 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, where many wept.
In an interview with the AP after the Mass, the Armenian president, Sarkisian, praised Francis for "calling things by their names".
He acknowledged the reparation issue, but said "for our people, the primary issue is universal recognition of the Armenian genocide, including recognition by Turkey".