The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Garegin II, said in Istanbul Sunday that Turks committed genocide against Armenians, a statement that is likely to increase tensions during the last two days of his weeklong visit to Turkey.
Garegin II, whose official title is Catholicos of All Armenians, has been facing protests since his plane landed at the Istanbul airport on Tuesday. The protesters included prominent lawyers from the Turkish Lawyers' Union, who previously pushed for the prosecution of novelist Orhan Pamuk after he said that Turks had killed 1 million Armenians.
Turkey vehemently denies that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I was genocide, and several cases have been brought against those who say otherwise. The cases have been opened under a law making it a crime to "insult Turkishness." Armenians say that as many as 1.5 million of their ancestors were killing in an organized genocidal campaign by Ottoman Turks, and have pushed for recognition of the killings as genocide around the world.
Garegin II was unreceptive Sunday to Turkey's requests that Turkey and Armenia, which are neighbors but have no diplomatic relations, open their historical archives to researchers from both countries to try to ease tensions and reach an objective conclusion about the killings. "For our people research is not an issue. This is something that happened and it needs to be recognized," the Dogan news agency quoted Garegin II as saying. "The genocide issue has been researched for 90 years by academics."
Garegin II said the protests hadn't affected him. "They didn't break my spirit and they don't reflect my visit," he said. "But if these kinds of protests continue, it shows that we have a lot of work so that these two societies can live together."
(Armenian Apostolic Church photo: Garegin II, right, and Patriarch Mesrob II, the spiritual leader of the Armenian community in Turkey, pictured outside an Armenian church in Istanbul.)