The Pope, in an unprecedented move, has identified the Armenian Genocide as ‘the first of the 20th Century’
The leader of the world’s Catholics has used the term “genocide” during a Mass commemorating the Armenian Genocide at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to describe the mass killing of over 1 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks
VATICAN CITY — During the month that marks the centennial of the slaughter of over 1 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish Empire, Pope Francis exhorted global leaders to join him in acknowledging what he termed the ‘first genocide in the 20th century.’ Locally, Nicholas Alahverdian worked with an American city that has a history of severe Armenian Genocide denial to acquire a proclamation from that city’s Office of the Mayor.
The Holy Father’s remarks came during a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, where many children wore traditional Armenian clothing as Armenian music and hymns were performed throughout the somber service, the altar surrounded by incense.
The words of the global leader of the Roman Catholic Church will almost certainly infuriate Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Conservative estimates found that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Turks beginning in 1915, and is widely viewed as the first genocide of the 20th century by scholars.
The daring statements from the Pope, who embraced the Armenian community since his days as a priest in Argentina, scoffed at mincing words. He declared that it was an obligation to respect the souls of murdered men, women, children, and clergy killed by the Ottoman Turks.
Nicholas Alahverdian’s Response
Nicholas Alahverdian, a descendent of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, applauded the Pope’s declaration. “This is a monumental moment and one that will ring in both church and world history,” Alahverdian said. “We are blessed in this day and age to have a Pope that finally recognizes the gravity of the travesties that occurred so long ago.”
The Republic of Turkey asserts that the death toll is exaggerated and should not be characterized as a genocide. Its ambassador to the Holy See, Mehmet Paçacı, scrapped a scheduled Sunday press conference after the embassy learned of the nature of the Holy See’s position and the papal remarks.
Phones at the Embassy were disconnected. No official statement has yet been provided by the government in Turkey’s capital, Ankara.
The Turkish government has actively advocated against the Vatican and numerous other governments and legislative bodies from officially designating the over 1 million murders of Armenians as a genocide.
“Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.”
Francis’ homily prompted Aram I, the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to thank the Holy Father for his frank assertion that “genocide” is a crime against humanity which necessitates reparation.
The Global Response
Many European nations have acknowledged the legitimacy of the Armenian Genocide. The United States Congress and the President, however, have avoided designating the massacre as a genocide because of its military and diplomatic relations with Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country.
Similarly, the Vatican has also been cautious at times, but expressed relief with specific official actions. Recently, for example, Turkish leaders demanded that clerics denounce the killings of Christians by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
“International law spells out clearly that condemnation, recognition and reparation of a genocide are closely interconnected.”
-Aram I, Leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church
Francis’ predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, did not acknowledge the genocide during his papacy.
The context of Francis’ pronunciation was significant: he uttered the words during an Armenian rite Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica marking the 100th anniversary of the slaughter, alongside the Armenian Catholic patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, Armenian Christian church leaders and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who sat in a place of honor in the basilica.
The Pope also spoke of other atrocities that followed the Armenian Genocide, such as the Holocaust and mass killings in nations such as Bosnia and Cambodia.
Also at Sunday’s Mass honoring the centenary of the genocide, Pope Francis recognized one Armenian in particular – 10th-century cleric St. Gregory of Narek. An honor which only 35 people in history have received, St. Gregory was named by the Holy Father as a doctor of the church. The designation is given to writers that have served the universal church in a significant way.