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Scammell writes: "Pope Francis has described the mass killing of Armenians 100 years ago as a genocide, a politically explosive pronouncement that could damage diplomatic relations with Turkey."

Pope Francis. (photo: Reuters)
Pope Francis. (photo: Reuters)

Pope Francis Calls Armenian Slaughter 'Genocide'

By Rosie Scammell, Guardian UK

12 April 15


Pontiff’s comments are likely to anger Turkey, which denies that the killings 100 years ago during the fall of the Ottoman empire constituted genocide

ope Francis has described the mass killing of Armenians 100 years ago as a genocide, a politically explosive pronouncement that could damage diplomatic relations with Turkey.

During a special mass to mark the centenary of the mass killing, the pontiff referred to “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” of the past century. “The first, which is widely considered the first genocide of the twentieth century, struck your own Armenian people,” he said, quoting a declaration signed in 2001 by Pope John Paul II and Kerekin II, leader of the Armenian church.

“Bishops and priests, religious women and men, the elderly and even defenceless children and the infirm were murdered,” the pope said.

Historians estimatethat as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a wave of violence that accompanied the fall of the Ottoman empire. Despite the massacre being formally recognised as a genocide by Italy and a number of other countries, Turkey refuses to accept it as such.

Reports in Turkey on Sunday said the Vatican’s ambassador to Ankara had been summoned to the foreign ministry to explain the pope’s remarks.

Although the pope chose to quote a predecessor rather than speak in his own words, he told Armenians there was a duty to remember to killings.

“We recall the centenary of that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter whose cruelty your forebears had to endure. It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honour their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester,” he said in St Peter’s Basilica.

During the mass Pope Francis also declared a 10th-century Armenian monk, St Gregory of Narek, a “doctor of the church”. The mystic and poet is celebrated for his writings, some of which are still recited each Sunday in Armenian churches.

The pope was joined at the Vatican by a number of Armenian dignitaries, including the president, Serž Sargsyan, and the head of the Armenian Apostolic church, Karekin II.

Theo van Lint, a Calouste Gulbenkian professor of Armenian studies at the University of Oxford, said allowing Armenian leaders to speak in St Peter’s Basilica was a strategic move.

“I think it’s very important to realise he gave space to the leaders, the heads of the Armenian church and Armenian Catholics, to fully give their view of events. It’s very clear that the pope accepts that it is a genocide,” van Lint told the Guardian.

He said the pontiff’s decision to refer to the mass killing of Armenians along with crimes perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism gave the Vatican’s “highest sanction” to genocide recognition.

Igor Dorfmann-Lazarev, a researcher on Armenian history and culture at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said the ceremony demonstrated the pope’s efforts to put periphery Christian groups at the centre of the Catholic church.

“This is the first time that Armenia is the centre of attention of Catholic life and the Christian world. It’s meant to draw attention to the Christian east,” he said.

Francis’s use of the word “genocide” was unlikely to change relations between Armenia and Turkey, Dorfmann-Lazarev said, although it would raise diplomatic concerns at the Vatican. your social media marketing partner


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+9 # DaveM 2015-04-12 22:13
It is said that when Adolf Hitler was making plans for what would become the Holocaust, one of his advisers cautioned him: "you don't want to be associated with anything like what happened to the Armenians in 1915". Hitler is said to have replied: "who remembers anything about the Armenians in 1915?"

The story is most likely apochryphal, but the point remains valid. Despite abundant documentation (including photographs) showing that a massive number of people, most of the Armenians, were killed by Ottoman troops in 1915 and during periods before and after that year. The atrocities in fact led to the creation of the word "genocide" in 1943.

22 nations, as of this writing, recognize the deaths of 1-1.5 million Armenians (and countless others the ottoman Empire regarded as undesirable) as genocide. The remainder of the world appears to believe that all of those people simply disappeared, despite documentation of mass graves, starvation camps, the murder of innocents via "medical experiments" (not invented by the Nazis, alas), and a series of war crimes trials involving Ottoman officials which resulted in death sentences for at least nine architects of the horror. It remains a largely forgotten chapter of history which absolutely must not be forgotten.

Thanks to Pope Francis for his courage, though in all fairness, he is unlikely to find a large Catholic population in or around Turkey, and therefore his speech has a more or less "safe" air to it.
+5 # cymricmorty 2015-04-13 02:12
Excellent post, DaveM. The first time I heard about the Armenian genocide was on a PBS program about World War I that I watched when I was about 16, I think. I was surprised I'd never heard of it before, and I haven't heard much, if anything, about it since then until now, unless I looked it up. How such a very real, huge-scale and focused attempt to destroy a single group of people, ALSO in the 20th century, could be left out is amazing to me.
+2 # polfrosch 2015-04-13 08:55
Shortly before the nazi german invasion on Poland Hitler gave a secret speech (nevertheless there are notes) to the top of his military. He described how any member of the polish "race" should be killed without mercy, men, women, elderly, children. He then referred to the genocide against the Armenians in WW1 and added: "Who speaks about the Armenians today?"

He knew about it from his important advisor, Erwin Scheubner-Richt er, a well connected man who introduced Hitler into the top ranks of Munich - he had tried to help the Armenians in world war one - without success. (Other german officers had assisted in the murder or looked the other way, again others tried to prevent it.)

The silence on the genocide in Armenia (1) compared to Nazi (2) and Stalins (3) was and is because of the political situation regarding Turkey.

After WW1 the western nations did not erect an Armenian state as planned. Instead Turkey became more an more an ally of the western states. In the cold war it was a hugely important ally against the USSR in NATO. It still is important. Hence the silence. Don´t rock the boat!

Nazi germany on the other hand was totally defeated, no careful manouvering needed ever after.

Regarding Stalins terror - after WW2 the USSR became the enemy, so calling that genocide served political purposes in the west - after Uncle Joe Stalin had served the task of finishing off enemy No.1 - Nazi Germany.

The first genocide is called "Aghet" by the Armenians.
+3 # polfrosch 2015-04-13 09:10
Even in Turkey itself the situation was more complicated. Atatürk, the leader of the modern Turkey originally was against the genocide, there were even court cases, as it was a crime of the Ottoman empire, which he fought politically. But after WW1 he sided with the murderers for political reasons to avoid a split in his forces. (Consider the alliance of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt if you think "how could he")

The main responsible person Enver Pascha even became a national hero by Atatürks dealings.

This is a dirty mess, which needs to be clarified.

But once again, Pope Francis spoke the truth.

I was never very much pro catholic church, but this pope has much more than my respect. I trust him. I see a man with a ton of good will - and he speaks out.

I do hope he will speak about Hiroshima and Nagasaki - the other never recognized huge crimes against humanity.

They have the most important effects to this day.

Nobody dares to say concentrations camps are good and necessary. Their evil is clearly understood. The maximum possible for Neonazis is to neglect their existence.

But nuclear "weapons", in reality evil devices of mass murder and hostage-taking of whole populations- aiming to kill men, women and children without mercy still have a very different connotation.

To change the course, their true nature and their ramifications need to be understood. But how should that happen in the country whose superpower status emerged from their "use"?
+2 # cymricmorty 2015-04-13 09:28
There are obvious and hideous parallels with the ongoing Palestinian genocide.
-2 # corals33 2015-04-13 03:05
What will good Pope Francis call slavery then, Christian Amnesia? oh but that was black people and they don't count when the counting begins. Onward, the good ship Jesus.
0 # NAVYVET 2015-04-13 09:15
My parents, born in 1899 and 1905, told me of the starving Armenians. But how about the genocides of white European colonials or bigots against Gauls, Muslims, Caribbeans, Native Americans, Africans, Chinese, South Asians, Tasmanians, Filipinos, Latin Americans, Jews, Romany, Poles, Kulaks, Southeast Asians, Iraqis, Palestinians, gays, women (except as breeders), plus the barbarous Middle Passage to New Jim Crow killings of people of the U.S. who originated in Africa. (I'm getting writer's cramp listing them. You know others.) The Pope would have to say that Spanish and Portuguese Catholics and Northern European Protestants were EQUALLY guilty. The Spaniards, including his own Franciscans, wiped out Native Californians even earlier than the Anglos decimated those of the Plains.

However, people can change and improve their morals & we can't forget that. Only a small minority of Euros a hundred or more years ago ever supported equal rights for all and even fewer dared to take a public stand against criminal treatment of those feared or despised. The influence of the Abolitionists, for example, was much greater than their small numbers because so many were writers. Since WWII the improvement is much greater even in families where there once was mass blindness about the humanity of "lesser" "races". And with global scorching, whites (like me) will learn the hard way that pale complexions are inferior and the world belongs to the brown and black, who are more likely to survive.

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