Official Ankara has condemned Pope Francis for describing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, warning of serious damage to relations between Turkey and the Vatican.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said over the weekend that it summoned the Papal nuncio in Ankara on Friday and told him that the pontiff’s remarks are “absolutely unacceptable.” “It was emphasized that the Holy See should refrain from taking steps that may cause harm to our bilateral relations that may be difficult to repair,” the ministry said in a statement.
Francis called the World War I-era deaths of some 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians “the first major genocide of the 20th century” at a June 3 meeting with Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX.
The Argentine-born pope made similar statements in the past when he served as archbishop of Buenos Aires. They were in tune with the views of many international historians as well as about two dozen countries that have passed resolutions recognizing the genocide.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly disputed that characterization, saying that not only Armenians but also Turks “suffered immensely” in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. “The Armenian view of history, however, selects the Armenian suffering, distorts it in several ways and attempts to present it as a genocide – a crime defined in international law – perpetrated by Turks against Armenians,” read its statement.
“While from the legal point of view no competent international court has taken up the events of 1915 and while differing opinions among scholars clearly exist, third parties in authority should not exploit history for political reasons by passing one-sided judgments,” added the statement.
The ministry also noted that Ankara has long been advocating the creation of a commission of Armenian and Turkish history that would examine those events.
Such a body was envisaged by one of the two normalization agreements signed by Armenia and Turkey in 2009. The Turkish government has made their ratification by Turkey’s parliament conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan.