I am a Burmese exile taking a near-permanent refuge in New York and Sydney. Here are my essays about Burma and anything else I feel like writing about. And posting the articles I like from selected sites. Bridging Burma to the world this Blog is more of a Politically-Oriented Literary Blog than a Plain News Blog or a Sophisticated Thoughts Blog.
VATICAN CITY — Pope
Francis on Sunday called the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks “the first
genocide of the 20th century” and urged the international community to
recognize it as such, sparking a diplomatic rift with Turkey at a delicate time
in Christian-Muslim relations.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who was on hand to
mark the 100th anniversary of the slaughter at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica,
praised the pope for calling a spade a spade in an interview with The
Associated Press. But Turkey, which has long denied a genocide took place,
immediately summoned the Vatican ambassador in Ankara to complain.
“The pope’s statement
which is far from historic and legal truths is unacceptable,” Foreign Minister
Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted. “Religious positions are not places where unfounded
claims are made and hatred is stirred.”
Francis, who has close
ties to the Armenian community from his days in Argentina, defended his
pronouncement by saying it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent
men, women and children who were “senselessly” murdered by Ottoman Turks. “Concealing
or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging
it,” he said at the start of a Mass in the Armenian Catholic rite honoring the
In a subsequent message
directed to all Armenians, Francis called on all heads of state and
international organizations to recognize the truth of what transpired to
prevent it from happening again, and oppose such crimes “without ceding to
ambiguity or compromise.”
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were
killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed
by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey, however, has
insisted that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of
civil war and unrest, not genocide. It has fiercely lobbied to prevent
countries, including the Holy See, from officially recognizing the Armenian massacre
Pope Francis calling Armenian Genocide the genocide.
Turkey’s embassy to the
Holy See canceled a planned news conference for Sunday, presumably after
learning that the pope would utter the word “genocide” over its objections.
Instead, the Foreign Ministry in Ankara issued a terse statement conveying its
“great disappointment and sadness.” It said the pope’s words signaled a loss in
trust, contradicted the pope’s message of peace and was discriminatory because
Francis only mentioned the pain of Christians, not Muslims or other religious groups.
Francis’ words had
immediate effect in St. Peters, where the head of the Armenian Apostolic
Church, Aram I thanked Francis for his clear condemnation and recalled that
“genocide” is a crime against humanity that requires reparation.
“International law spells
out clearly that condemnation, recognition and reparation of a genocide are
closely interconnected,” Aram said in English at the end of the Mass to
applause from the pews, where many wept.
In an interview with the
AP after the Mass, the Armenian president, Sargsyan, praised Francis for
“calling things by their names.” He acknowledged the reparation issue, but said
“for our people, the primary issue is universal recognition of the Armenian
genocide, including recognition by Turkey.”
He dismissed Turkish calls
for joint research into what transpired, saying researchers and commissions
have already come to the conclusion and there is “no doubt at all that what
happened was a genocide.”
Several European countries
recognize the massacres as genocide, though Italy and the United States, for
example, have avoided using the term officially given the importance they place
on Turkey as an ally.
The Holy See, too, places
great importance in its relationship with the moderate Muslim nation,
especially as it demands Muslim leaders condemn the slaughter of Christians by
Muslim extremists in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
But Francis’ willingness
to rile Ankara with his words showed once again that he has few qualms about
taking diplomatic risks for issues close to his heart. He took a similar risk
by inviting the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to pray together for peace
at the Vatican — a summit that was followed by the outbreak of fighting in the
Francis is not the first pope to call the massacre a genocide.
In his remarks, Francis cited a 2001 declaration signed by St. John Paul II and
the Armenian church leader, Karenkin II, which said the deaths were considered
“the first genocide of the 20th century.”
But the context of Francis’ pronunciation was different
and significant: He uttered the words during an Armenian rite Mass in St.
Peter’s marking the 100th anniversary of the slaughter, alongside the Armenian
Catholic patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, Armenian Christian church
leaders and Sargsyan, who sat in a place of honor in the basilica.
The definition of genocide
has long been contentious. The United Nations in 1948 defined genocide as
killing and other acts intended to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or
religious group, but many dispute which mass killings should be called genocide
and whether the terms of the U.N. convention on genocide can be applied
Reaction to the pope’s
declaration on the streets in Istanbul was mixed. Some said they supported it,
but others did not agree. “I don’t support the word genocide being used by a
great religious figure who has many followers,” said Mucahit Yucedal, 25.
“Genocide is a serious allegation.” Related posts at following links: Armenian Genocide (1915-1918)