Risking more protests by Turkey, Pope Francis publicly reiterated on Friday his view that the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide.
Visiting Armenia, Francis recalled an April 2015 mass at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica during which he referred to the deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians as “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
“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 after a meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian.
“I pay homage to the Armenian people who, illuminated by the light of the Gospel, even at the most tragic moments of their history, have always found in the cross and resurrection of Christ the strength to rise again and take up their journey anew with dignity,” the pontiff in a speech delivered at the presidential palace in Yerevan.
The Pope appeared to have departed from his prepared text which did not contain the word “genocide.” He sat beside Sarkisian while addressing senior Armenian officials and the diplomatic corps in Yerevan.
Sarkisian mentioned Francis’s “message of justice” voiced during the landmark Vatican mass in his address to the audience. He said it helped to generate “a new wage of Armenian genocide recognition.”
“The Armenian genocide is a historical fact and irrefutable reality,” said the president.
The Turkish government reacted furiously to the Francis’s 2015 statement, recalling its ambassador to the Holly See in protest.
Francis, who will visit the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan on Saturday, again drew parallels on Friday between past sufferings of the Armenian people and the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
“Today Christians in particular, perhaps even more than at the time of the first martyrs, in some places experience discrimination and persecution for the mere fact of professing their faith,” he said. At the same time, all too many conflicts in various parts of the world remain unresolved, causing grief, destruction and forced migrations of entire peoples.”
“The Armenian people have experienced these situations firsthand; they have known suffering and pain; they have known persecution; they preserved not only the memory of past hurts, but also the spirit that has enabled them always to start over again,” added the pontiff.