Pope Francis marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide by declaring that the mass killings was the first genocide of the 20th century.
Speaking at Sunday mass commemorating the anniversary of the genocide, Pope Francis became the second pope to risk the wrath of Turkey who, despite mountains of evidence, continue to deny that the deaths of 1 million Armenians was genocide.
Speaking at a Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to mark 100 years since the Armenian killings, the pope spoke of the massacres in the context of the contemporary persecution of Christians in the Muslim world—a subject that has become an increasingly prominent and urgent theme in Pope Francis’ public statements.
Armenians say that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were systematically killed during World War I in today’s eastern Turkey, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire.
Many countries officially recognize the killings as genocide. But Turkey contests Armenian claims about the scale of losses; it argues that hundreds of thousands actually died in warfare and famine, and that many Turks were also killed by Armenians. Turkey argues that the question of genocide should be left to historians rather than politicians.
Pope Francis said Sunday that “it is necessary, and indeed a duty” to “recall the centenary of that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter whose cruelty your forbears had to endure…Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.”
Pope Francis went further than the 2001 declaration, calling the killing of Armenians one of “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” in the 20th century.
“The remaining two were perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism,” he said. The latter reference was apparently to the 1932-33 man-made famine in Ukraine, part of Joseph Stalin’s effort to collectivize Soviet agriculture, which killed as many as 7.5 million.
The evidence is overwhelming that the Ottoman Turks systematically organized the deliberate deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians. Government documents, photos, testimony from survivors prove that Turkey wished to rid itself of its Christian minorities, largely because they believed that the Armenians and others were siding with Russia against Turkey in World War I. They also needed a convenient scapegoat for the losses suffered on the battlefield.
The greatest number of killings occurred on horrific death marches of hundreds of miles where the Turks drove women, children, and old people (most of the young men had already been massacred) into the Syrian desert. There was no food or water given to the victims along the way — again, by design.
Few recognized historians take Turkey’s side — that the deaths were regrettable but not part of an organized effort to kill all Armenians. And Turkey is fanatical about the subject. After Pope Francis identified the Armenian massacres as genocide, Turkey angrily recalled its ambassador to the Vatican.
His use of the term genocide — even though he was quoting from the declaration — upset Turkey.
The nation summoned its ambassador to the Vatican for “consultations” just hours after Francis’ comments, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Earlier, Turkey summoned the ambassador from the Vatican for a meeting, Turkish state broadcaster TRT reported.
Turkey’s former ambassador to the Vatican, Kenan Gursoy, told CNN in a telephone interview that while it is the first time Turkey has summoned its ambassador home from the Vatican, “This does not mean that our diplomatic ties with the Vatican are over.”
“Since this is a situation that we do not approve of, as a first reaction, (the ambassador) is summoned to get consultation,” Gursoy said, adding that the Pope’s use of the word “genocide” was “a one-sided evaluation.”
In a tweet Sunday on his official account, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the Pope’s use of the word “unacceptable” and “out of touch with both historical facts and legal basis.”
“Religious offices are not places through which hatred and animosity are fueled by unfounded allegations,” the tweet reads.
This is actually a mild reaction compared to when the US House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution in 2010 calling the actions of the Turkish government genocide:
Barack Obama’s administration, which regards Turkey as an important ally, was today desperately seeking to defuse the row. It expressed its frustration with the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee, which voted 23-22 yesterday in favour of a resolution labelling the 1915 massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians a “genocide”.
A furious Turkey may now deny the US access to the Incirlik air base, a staging post for Iraq, as it did at the time of the 2003 invasion, or withdraw its sizeable troop contribution to the coalition forces in Afghanistan.
On the diplomatic front, the US needs the support of Turkey, which has a seat on the UN security council, in the push for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. Turkey is also helpful to the US on a host of other diplomatic issues in the Middle East and central Asia.
The White House and state department began work today to try to prevent the controversial issue making its way to the floor of the house for a full vote.
In Turkey, Suat Kiniklioglu, the influential deputy chairman for external affairs in the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), warned of “major consequences” if the resolution was accepted by the full House of Representatives.
“If they choose to bring this to the floor they will have to face the fact that the consequences would be serious – the relationship would be downgraded at every level,” he said. “Everything from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Iraq to the Middle East process would be affected.
“There would be major disruption to the relationship between Turkey and the US.”
The Obama administration was successful in keeping the measure from the House floor.
It is shameful that the US hasn’t stood up and sided with the victims of this atrocity. Turkey cannot continue to deny its culpability for this crime against humanity any more than the Germans can deny the Holocaust. They have been convicted by their own words and deeds and given the Islamist bent of the Erdogan administration, Turkey is becoming less and less important to the US — and NATO.
The truth is out and the fact that Turkey refuses to acknowledge it should play no part in the world’s condemnation of this horrible crime.