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Pope Denounces World War I Mass Killings During Armenia Visit

by Isabela Cocoli June 24, 2016

Pope Francis denounced again Friday the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as "genocide" as he met with Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan, a statement that enraged Ankara a year ago.

Francis, who is on a three-day visit in the country, used the Armenian term 'Metz Yeghern' (the great evil), but added to his prepared text the word "genocide" to refer to what he also called "the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century."

Frances delivered a major speech at the presidential palace in Yerevan with other Armenian high officials and the diplomatic corps in audience, after visiting the Cathedral of Armenian Church in Etchmiadzin, where he urged all Christians to unite to prevent religion from being exploited and manipulated.

There was no immediate reaction from Turkey, which promptly recalled its ambassador to the Vatican after Francis used the term genocide last year.

Oriental Orthodox patriarch of the Apostolic Church Karekin, alongside Sargsyan greeted Francis when he arrived in the capital, Yerevan, Friday afternoon.

Francis has frequently denounced the slaughter of Christians by Islamic extremists in the Middle East, saying that the indiscriminate attacks against religious minorities is an "ecumenism of blood," a martyrdom shared by all Christians.

Recently, however, he said he preferred to use the term "martyrdom" over "genocide" when describing the persecution of Christians.

In coming days, Francis will pray at Armenia's genocide memorial, release a dove of peace near Armenia's closed border with Turkey and pray for peace during an ecumenical service with Karekin.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1917 and many scholars have viewed the event as the 20th century's first genocide.

Armenia has long sought international recognition of the event as genocide, while Turkey acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died, but has denied that their killings constituted a campaign of genocide.

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