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Turkey Summons Vatican Envoy Over 'Genocide' Remarks

by VOA News April 12, 2015

Turkey quickly summoned the Vatican's envoy to protest Sunday after Pope Francis marked the 100th anniversary of the mass killing of Armenians by calling it a genocide.

The pontiff said during a Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica that the killing of what Armenia says were as many as 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks about the time of World War I was 'the first genocide of the 20th century.'

Turkey told the Vatican's ambassador on Sunday it was "deeply sorry and disappointed" that Pope Francis had called the 1915 mass killings in Armenia a genocide, an official said, adding the pope's comments had caused a "problem of trust."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted, 'The pope's statement, which is far from historic and legal truths, is unacceptable. 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 honor the memory of the innocent men, women, children, priests and bishops who were killed 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 Sunday in the Armenian Catholic rite in St. Peter's Basilica honoring the centenary.

Armenian response

Francis's comments were published by Armenian President Serzh Sargyan's office Sunday.

'We are deeply grateful to His Holiness Pope Francis for the idea of this unprecedented liturgy ... which symbolizes our solidarity with the people of the Christian world,' Sargyan said in a speech at a Vatican dinner on Saturday evening.

Francis said the Armenian killings were the first of three 'massive and unprecedented tragedies' that was followed by the Holocaust and Stalinism.

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 genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Denies statement

Muslim Turkey has acknowledged that Christian Armenians died in clashes with the Ottoman Turks, but angrily denies that the massacre constituted genocide. Turkey said the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Turkey's embassy to the Holy See canceled a planned news conference for Sunday, presumably after learning that the pope would utter the word 'genocide' over its objections.

Pope John Paul the Second and the Armenian patriarch issued a joint statement in 2000 calling the massacre 'genocide,' but Sunday was the first time the word had been used during a Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica.

Sunday's Mass was concelebrated by the Armenian Catholic patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, and was attended by Armenian Orthodox church leaders as well as Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who sat in a place of honor in the basilica.

Francis also honored the Armenian community at the start of the Mass by pronouncing a 10th-century Armenian mystic, St. Gregory of Narek, a doctor of the church.

Only 35 people have been given the title, which is reserved for those whose writings have greatly served the universal church.

Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.

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