Turkey Summons Vatican Envoy After Pope Describes Armenian 'Genocide'

Pope defends his pronouncement by saying it is his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women, children, priests and bishops who were 'senselessly' murdered.

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Pope Francis and Aram I during an Armenian-Rite Mass marking 100 years since the mass killing of Armenians, April 12, 2015.
Pope Francis and Aram I during an Armenian-Rite Mass marking 100 years since the mass killing of Armenians, April 12, 2015.

REUTERS - 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."

Turkey also called its ambassador to the Vatican back to Ankara for consultation, the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

The pope made the comments earlier in the day during a Mass marking the 100th anniversary of the killings.

Muslim Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians died in clashes with Ottoman soldiers beginning in 1915, when Armenia was part of the empire ruled from Istanbul, but denies hundreds of thousands were killed and that this amounted to genocide.

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 "senselessly" murdered.

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

This was not the first time that the Pope has spoken out over the Armenia genocide. In 2013, at a meeting with Catholicos Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholics at the Vatican, he declared: "The first genocide of the 20th century was that of the Armenians."

In 2006, before he became pontiff, he urged Turkey to recognize the genocide as the “gravest crime of Ottoman Turkey against the Armenian people and the entire humanity.”

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.

Several European countries recognize the massacres as genocide, though Italy and the United States have avoided using the term officially given the importance they place on Turkey as an ally.

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