Pope Francis has called for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia a century after the Turkish slaughter of up to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I, but he was condemned on Saturday by a Turkish politician for describing the killings as “genocide.”
Addressing a crowd of 50,000 in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, on Saturday during a three-day visit to the country, Francis called on Armenia and Turkey to take up “the path of reconciliation” and overcome simmering resentment over the 1915 massacre by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor to modern Turkey.
Turkey has long bridled at the use of “genocide” to describe the killings, as Francis did Friday, noting that many Turks also died at the time. Ankara temporarily recalled its ambassador to the Vatican last year when the pope used the word in Rome.
After his arrival in Armenia on Friday, Francis rekindled the row while meeting Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, when he inserted the word into a prepared speech which had avoided it.
"Sadly, that tragedy -- that genocide -- was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples,” he said.
May God protect the memory of the Armenian people. Memory should never be watered down or forgotten.
On Saturday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli called the pope’s speech a “great disgrace” that contained “all the reflexes of the Crusades.”
“It is not compatible with reality,” he said. “We all know it. The whole world knows it, including the Armenians.”
Sargsyan praised Francis for having used the word last year, saying on Friday that it prompted “a new wave of recognition” of the tragedy.
"May God protect the memory of the Armenian people. Memory should never be watered down or forgotten. Memory is the source of peace and the future,” he wrote in the guest book on Saturday during a somber visit to Armenia’s genocide memorial at Tsitsernakaberd.
Armenia is one of the world’s oldest Christian nations, having officially adopted the faith in the fourth century, and today 96% of the 3 million inhabitants are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Francis’ determination to keep a focus on the killings after the First World War follows his appeals to halt the slaughter of Christians today in war-torn Syria.
Addressing the crowd at evening prayers in Yerevan, Francis said, “A century has just passed from the ‘Great Evil’ unleashed upon you.”
He added that keeping the memory of the killings a century ago "is not only right, it is a duty. May they be a perennial warning lest the world fall back into the maelstrom of similar horrors!”
4:28 p.m. This article has been updated with additional details and context.
This article originally published at 8:59 a.m.