Armenia has dismissed Turkey’s angry reaction to Pope Francis’s public description of the 1915 Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire as “the first genocide of the 20th century” which was voiced during a landmark Mass at the Vatican.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said Francis delivered an “important message of solidarity and support to the Armenian people” when he marked the 100th anniversary of the genocide in St. Peter’s basilica on Sunday. The pontiff also expressed support for international efforts to prevent new crime against humanity, Nalbandian said in written comments released on Monday.
Nalbandian attended the unprecedented Mass along with other members of a large Armenian government delegation headed by President Serzh Sarkisian. The top clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church, leaders of Armenian Diaspora organizations as well Armenian Catholic faithful were also in attendance.
Sarkisian thanked Francis for the liturgy during their short conversation that followed the two-and-a-half-hour ceremony retransmitted live by Armenian state television.
By contrast, the Turkish government condemned the pontiff for again referring to the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians as genocide and recalled Turkey’s ambassador to the Vatican in protest.
“These were the words of the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics,” Nalbandian said, commenting on the Turkish anger. “If Turkey disagrees with that view, with the view of numerous countries and international structures that have recognized the Armenian genocide, then that is Turkey’s problem’s and not the international community’s.”
“This shows that Turkey and the international community speak different languages,” charged Nalbandian. “This is further proof that Turkey is continuing its denialist policy at the state level, thereby shouldering responsibility for the crime perpetrated by the Ottoman authorities.”
The Francis has also drawn strong praise from Armenian Diaspora organizations and, in particular, U.S.-Armenian lobby groups that have long been campaigning for an official U.S. recognition of the genocide. Leaders of one such group, the Armenian Assembly of America, were also present at Sunday’s Mass.
“The Pope’s acknowledgment is of profound spiritual significance for the Armenian people in recalling the victims of the Armenian Genocide,” Bryan Ardouny, the Assembly’s executive director, said in a statement.
For its part, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) hailed the pontiff’s statement as “historic” and said it should serve as an example to U.S. President Barack Obama, who has so far avoided using the word “genocide” in reference to the mass killings and deportations of Armenians.