In a move that could irk Turkey, Pope Francis has publicly stood by his past statements describing the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
Francis reiterated his view on the subject during a meeting with the Lebanon-based Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX held at the Vatican this week.
A video report on the meeting circulated by the Catholic TV news agency Rome Reports (Romereports.com) showed him greeting Nerses Bedros and several Armenian Catholics accompanying the patriarch. One of them, a woman, told Francis that her family was a genocide victim as she introduced herself.
“It was the first major genocide of the 20th century,” replied the Pope.
Francis has described the World War I-era deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians as genocide on at least one occasion in the past, when he was Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. Speaking in 2006, he also urged Turkey to acknowledge the genocide.
Armenian Diaspora groups were quick to welcome his latest remarks. Asbarez.com quoted Alfonso Tabakian of the Armenian National Committee of South America as emphasizing the fact that Francis reaffirmed the genocide recognition in his capacity as head of the Roman Catholic Church. “His words transcend any state or religion,” said Tabakian.
The late Pope John Paul II likewise called the slaughter of Ottoman Armenians “the first genocide of the 20th century” when he visited Armenia in 2001. But his successor Benedict XVI, who resigned in March, refrained from using the word genocide with respect to the 1915 massacres.