Politics make strange bedfellows. On Sunday Pope Francis called the centennial memorial slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks “the first genocide of the 20th century” and urged global recognition of the 100th anniversary as such. Turkey immediately responded by recalling its ambassador and accused Pope Francis of spreading hatred and “unfounded claims.”
The Pope issued the pronouncement during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica commemorating the centenary that was attended by Armenian Church leaders and President Serge Sarkisian, who praised the pope for calling a spade a spade and “delivering a powerful message to the international community.” He told the associated press, “The words of the leader of a church with 1 Billion followers cannot but have a strong impact.” In the interview, he acknowledged the reparation issue, but said “for our people, the primary issue is universal recognition of the Armenian genocide, including recognition by Turkey.”
He dismissed Turkish calls for joint research into what transpired, saying, “researchers and commissions have already come to the conclusion and there is no doubt at all that what happened was genocide.”
Francis willingness to rile Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, with his words showed once again that he has few qualms about taking diplomatic risks for issues close to his heart. The butchery of Armenians is indeed close to the Vatican’s heart given that Armenia is held up as the first Christian nation, dating back from 301.
The context of Francis’ tone was different and significant in St. Peter’s Basilica during an Armenian rite service with the Armenian Church and state leadership in attendance on the 100th anniversary of the massacre. The pope’s words had a deeply moving effect among Armenians in the cathedral, many of whom wept. At the end of the service, the Armenian Apostolic Church’s Aram thanked Francis for his clear condemnation and recalled that “genocide” is a crime against humanity that requires reparation.
The definition of genocide has long been contentious. The United Nations in 1948 defined genocide as killing and other acts intended to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Many dispute which mass killings should be called genocide and whether the terms of the UN convention on genocide can be applied retroactively.
Turkey, however denies genocide ever took place. It has insisted that the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he is “condemning” Pope Francis for describing the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as “the first genocide of the 20th century and urged global recognition of it. Turkey maintains that while the Ottomans killed many Armenians as they sought to relocate them during their fight for independence in 1915, there was not an Ottoman policy of ethnic driven genocide.
Pope Francis defended his words by saying it was his duty to honor the memory of innocent men, women and children who were “senselessly” murdered by Ottoman Turks. “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.” He said similar massacres are under way today against all Christians who because of their faith are “publicly and ruthlessly put to death—decapitated, crucified, burned alive—or forced to leave their homeland,” a reference to the Islamic State group’s assault against Christians in Iraq and Syria.
Francis then called on the heads of states and international organizations to recognize the truth of what transpired to prevent such “horrors” from repeating themselves, and to oppose all such crimes “without ceding to ambiguity or compromise.”
Turkey has fiercely lobbied to prevent countries, including the Holy See, from officially recognizing the Armenian massacre as genocide and reacted strongly to Pope Francis’ declaration.
“The Pope’s statement, which is far from historic and legal truths, is unacceptable,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted. “Religious positions are not places where unfounded claims are made and hatred is stirred.” The Foreign Ministry summoned the Vatican’s envoy in Ankara, and then announced it was recalling its own ambassador to the Vatican for consultations. In a statement, the ministry said, “the Turkish people would not recognize the pope’s statement: which is controversial, based on prejudice, distorts history and reduces the pains suffered in Anatolia to members of just one religion.”
President Erdogan said he was “condemning and warning” Pope Francis against making “such a mistake again.” He accused Francis of “deviating from his message of peace and reconciliation during his November visit to Turkey.” Just two days later the official Vatican website was hacked into and they actually managed to shut it down. The hacker said, “We want Pope Francis to apologize for his words or we will make sure the website remains offline.” The Vatican site was restored within a few hours.
Proponents of the use of the word “genocide” say the Ottomans indeed systematically relocated Armenians in an effort to eliminate them.
The Armenian genocide also known as the Armenian Holocaust happened in 1915 and Historians estimate that included 1.5 million Armenian deaths, taking place after WWI and the event is widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. President Obama has not yet used the word “genocide” in his annual statement recognizing the killings but 23 Countries and 43 States in the US have officially proclaimed or passed legislation identifying them as genocide.
“The Kardashian family trip to Armenia, the country of their ancestors, has helped shine a global spotlight on Armenia and Armenian genocide; sharing the historical facts and the need for justice for that crime of millions,” said Elizabeth Chouldjian communications director of the Armenian Nat’l COMM of Armenia (ANCA). “The Kardashians have helped strike a powerful blow at Turkey’s campaign of genocide denial,” she added.
The Kardashians are better known for their late-night exploits and romantic pursuits than they are their political forays but on this trip they dove right in, stated the Insider.
The sisters met with Prime Minister, Novik Abrahamyan and visited the memorial to the victims of genocide in Yerevan, Armenia. They picked the most controversial time of year to visit their ancestral homeland of Armenia just before April 24 centennial of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, present day Turkey, which Armenians call genocide but a term Turkey vehemently rejects.
The Prime Minister expressed how proud they are that the Kardashians are proud Armenians and hadn’t forgotten their roots.
I think Ms. Kardashian’s selfie-world view has been stretched from this experience just enough to now encompass a better understanding in relating to the Jewish people’s emotional feeling and meaning of the word “genocide”. After their visit to Armenia, Kim and husband Kanye flew to Israel with their daughter. The Jerusalem post reported that they had their 22 month-old daughter, North, baptized. The event took place at St. James Cathedral, a 12th century Church in the Armenian quarter. Her message of awareness against Turkey’s “denial of the Armenian holocaust” resonated with her fans and no doubt was close to her heart as she learned something from the Jewish people. She tweeted, # Never Forget.