Pope Francis on Friday reused the word “genocide” to describe the World War I-era massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks. The remarks, made on the first day of his three-day trip to the Armenia, were absent from the prepared text of his speech, and mark the second time the pope has used the politically charged word to describe the killings.
“Sadly, that tragedy, that genocide, was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples,” Francis said during a speech at the presidential palace in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. “Having seen the pernicious effects to which hatred, prejudice and the untrammeled desire for dominion led in the last century, I express my lively hope that humanity will learn from those tragic experiences the need to act with responsibility and wisdom to avoid the danger of a return to such horrors.”
Fresh from his ad-libbed remarks, the pope also visited the Armenian genocide memorial in Tsitsernakaberd on Saturday.
Most historians now describe the systematic extermination of nearly 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916 as genocide, and over 20 nations already recognize it as such. Turkey, however, has consistently argued that the death toll has been massively exaggerated and has spoken out against the use of the word genocide, maintaining that those who died were victims of civil war, unrest and famine.
Francis is not the first pope to use the word to refer to the killings. Back in 2001, Pope John Paul II also called them a genocide during a visit to Armenia. Francis, however, has been much more outspoken, arguing that “concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.”
Last year, after he described the massacre as the “first genocide of the 20th century” while speaking at a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the centenary of the Armenian genocide, the reaction from Ankara was prompt and angry. The Turkish government, stating it was “disappointed and saddened” by the pope’s comments, immediately recalled its ambassador to the Vatican and did not return the envoy for 10 months — doing so only after warning the pontiff to “not to repeat this mistake.”
Turkey is yet to react to Francis’ latest comments.