Responding to an uproar in Armenia, the Russian Orthodox Church clarified on Monday that its supreme head, Patriarch Kirill, did not deny the 1915 Armenian genocide when he praised the Ottoman Empire’s treatment of its Christian minorities.
A spokesman for Kirill said that the influential church continues to believe that the World War One-era slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide.
The Kremlin-backed Patriarch raised eyebrows in Armenia when he discussed the plight of shrinking Christian communities in the Middle East in a weekend interview with Russian state television. In a clear reference to atrocities committed by Islamist militants, he said Christians in the region are being subjected to genocide.
“Nothing similar to the current events had ever happened in the Islamic world,” Kirill said, adding: “Take, for example, the Turkish, Ottoman Empire. Yes, there were Christian minorities there but they were not exterminated.”
The remarks angered many Armenian social media users before being similarly condemned by some political figures. Giro Manoyan of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a major party that has traditionally been sympathetic to Russia, called them “unacceptable.”
“Obviously, Christians were not constantly massacred throughout the existence of the Ottoman Empire,” Manoyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But failing to see that there were massacres, genocides targeting Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other minorities is tantamount to distorting history.”
Manoyan urged Armenia’s government and the Armenian Apostolic Church to officially react to Kirill’s statement.
Rev. Vahram Melikian, the spokesman for the church, said the Echmiadzin-based office of Catholicos Garegin II expects an explanation from the Russian Church and has already contacted the Moscow Patriarchate for that purpose.
Melikian publicized later in the day a statement to the Armenian media released by Kirill’s spokesman, Rev. Aleksandr Volkov.
Volkov insisted that the Patriarch alluded to only some periods of Ottoman history that saw “relative security and stability in the lives of religious minorities.” “The absence of such order -- both in the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago and in contemporary Iraq, Syria and Libya -- always leads to tragic events,” he said.
“The position of our Church on the Armenian genocide has been repeatedly and clearly expressed in numerous statements and messages of the Patriarch,” added Volkov. He pointed out that high-level Russian Orthodox clerics took part in last year’s events in Armenia that marked the centennial of the Armenian genocide.
Kirill prayed and laid flowers at the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan when he visited Armenia in 2010.