Turkey’s government officially condemned Pope Francis on Monday for reaffirming his recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire during a three-day visit to Armenia.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said his repeated characterizations of the mass killings and deportations of Armenians are “incompatible with historical facts and law.” “Pope Francis, unfortunately, just as he did last year, left Turkey and the Turkish people frustrated,” it said in a statement.
“Thus, we regrettably note that Pope Francis’s trip to Armenia did not make any contribution to peace and stability in Southern Caucasus,” charged the statement.
The pontiff used the word “genocide” in reference to the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians when he addressed Armenian leaders and foreign diplomats in Yerevan at the start of his trip on Friday. He admitted afterwards departing from his prepared speech that did not contain the politically sensitive term.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli denounced the Pope’s remarks on Saturday, saying that they bore the hallmarks of the “mentality of the Crusades.” A Vatican spokesman rejected the criticism.
Francis also defied the Turkish reaction when he signed on Sunday a joint declaration with the Armenian Catholicos Garegin II mentioning “the extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century.”
Francis the uttered the same phrase when he marked the centenary of the genocide with a special Vatican mass held in April 2015.
“After feeling the tone of the speech by the [Armenian] president and having already used the word last year at St Peter's, I thought it would have sounded odd not to use the same word," the Pope told reporters on the flight back to Rome Sunday evening.
“I did not use the word with an offensive intention, but objectively,” he said, according to the AFP news agency.
The Turkish government reacted just as angrily to the 2015 papal statement, recalling its ambassador to the Holy See in protest. The envoy, Mehmet Pacaci, returned to the Vatican 10 months later.
Citing unnamed diplomatic sources, “Hurriyet Daily News” reported on Monday that Ankara is not yet planning to again recall Pacaci for consultations.
Successive Turkish governments have claimed that Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire died during the First World War in smaller numbers and as a result of civil strife, rather than a premediated government policy of extermination.
Most Western historians specializing in research of crimes against humanity dismiss the official Turkish position.
“The historical record on the Armenian Genocide is unambiguous and documented by overwhelming evidence,” the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) said in a 2007 statement.
The Armenian genocide has also been recognized by more than two dozen nations, including France, Italy, Russia, and, most recently, Germany.