ANKARA, (AFP, AP, RFE/RL) - Turkey lodged a protest with the Vatican on Tuesday over Pope John Paul II's use of the word "genocide" to describe the killings of Armenians under Ottoman Turkish rule at the start of the last century, a Turkish diplomat said.
The Turkish government summoned the Vatican's ambassador to Ankara, Luigi Conti, to the foreign ministry and orally conveyed its disappointment over the Pope's remarks, made in a joint statement with the head of the Armenian Church during a visit to Armenia last week, the diplomat said, asking not to be named. Ankara is disappointed that the pope "darkened Turkey's history" during the visit, the diplomat said.
"We pointed out to the ambassador the contradiction between the Pope's previous reassurances to Turkey and the results of his visit," he added.
In a letter to Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer ahead of his visit to Armenia, John Paul II had said that Turkey had "nothing to worry about" from the trip. The letter had been in response to a message from Ankara to the Vatican saying that the papal visit to Armenia "should not tarnish Turks and their history".
Turkey categorically rejects claims of genocide, saying that around 300,000 Armenians and thousands of Turks were killed in fighting when Armenians, then subjects of the Ottoman Empire, sided with invading Russian troops in the hope of carving out an independent state in eastern Anatolia.
However, by most historical accounts, as many as 1.5 million people died as a result of an Ottoman government effort to exterminate the ethnic Armenian population of the crumbling empire.
The statement issued in Yerevan last Thursday by John Paul II and Catholicos II said: “The extermination of 1.5 million Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century, and the subsequent annihilation of thousands under the former totalitarian regime are tragedies that still live in the memory of the present-day generation." The pope paid tribute to the victims of the tragedy the previous day when he led a prayer service at the genocide memorial in Yerevan.
Ankara refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia as long as it does not give up its campaign for the international recognition of the genocide, and resolves a conflict over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey.