Pope Francis Speaks The Truth About The Armenian Genocide, Turks Get Predictably Upset

Unlike most world leaders, Pope Francis is wiling to call a genocide a genocide.

Armenian Genocide
Pope Francis ruffled diplomatic feathers back in Istanbul yesterday when he publicly referred to the 1915 death of some 1,000,000 Armenians at the hands of what was then the Ottoman Empire as a genocide:

ROME — Pope Francis on Sunday described the World War I-era slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as the first genocide of the 20th century, igniting a diplomatic confrontation withTurkey, which quickly summoned the Vatican’s ambassador to condemn the pontiff’s remarks and recalled its own ambassador to the Holy See.

Francis, who made the comments at a Mass for the centenary of the start of the mass killings, and in a later message to all Armenians, repeated his stance that the seemingly piecemeal global violence of the 21st century actually represented a “third world war.”

He also described his frustration with what he considers global indifference toward the persecution and killing of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere, especially by militants with the Islamic State.

“Today, too, we are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference,” Francis said.

In addressing the Armenian question, Francis quoted from a 2001 declaration by Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin II, the Armenian Apostolic Church’s supreme patriarch, in which the two leaders called the Armenian slaughter a campaign of extermination that was “generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century.”

Vatican diplomats have been deliberately prudent in avoiding the term, so in using it during the Mass on Sunday, before an audience that included the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, Francis clearly intended to provoke a response. He equated the fate of the Armenians with the genocides orchestrated by the Nazis and the Soviets under Stalin, while also condemning “other mass killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia.”

“It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood,” Francis said. “It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today, too, there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few, and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by.”

Francis said it was a duty of everyone not to forget the “senseless slaughter” of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923. “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” the pope added.

Turkey has long resisted the genocide designation, saying that a large number of Turks were also killed during and after the First World War, when Armenians sided with Russian and Western forces in hopes of claiming an independent homeland in eastern Turkey as the Ottoman Empire was dying.

Many Armenians have long demanded that Turkey acknowledge that about 1.5 million of their forebears were actually killed in a systematic genocide. More than 20 countries have passed parliamentary bills recognizing the killings as genocide, while nations like Greece and Switzerland have called for criminal charges against those who deny it.

On Sunday, Turkish officials in Ankara, the capital, summoned Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey, and notified him of their government’s “grave disappointment and sadness” over the pope’s remarks, which were “away from historical facts” and dismissive of the deaths of non-Christians in the country during the same historical period, according to a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic protocol.

On Twitter, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, dismissed Francis’ comments as baseless. “It is not possible to accept the pope’s statement, which is far from any legal or historical reality,” he wrote. “Religious authorities are not the places to incite resentment and hatred with baseless allegations.”

Later, the Foreign Ministry said that Ankara’s ambassador to the Vatican, Mehmet Pacaci, had been recalled for “deliberations.”

The issue of the Armenian Genocide has been a diplomatically sensitive one for decades, largely because Turkey has long resisted efforts by historians and the international community to assign that label to the events of 1915 notwithstanding the fact that they happened when an entirely different nation was ruling what is now Turkey and Armenia. Thanks largely to the fact that it has been a NATO member since 1952 and its importance first during the Cold War and now as part of the War On Terror and other conflicts, American Presidents have largely shied away from using the word “genocide” to describe what happened, instead using phrases like “the Great Calamity,” as the George W. Bush Administration did during its time in office. While he was a candidate for President, Barack Obama made public statements in which he said that as, President, he would indeed refer to the events of 1915 as a “genocide,” but once he became President he began issuing the same bland statements that previous Presidents have used. As I noted at the time, given the need to placate the Turks, and especially given the extent to which relations with Istanbul have become more complicated in recent years, it was entirely predictable that the President would break that promise. One of the rare exceptions seems to have come during the Reagan Administration, when President Reagan explicitly referred to the Armenian genocide in a statement issued marking a remembrance of the Nazi Holocaust of Eastern European Jews during World War II. For the most part, though, the American government, and much of the rest of the world has placated the Turks in their insistence that what happened to Armenians in 1915 was some kind of accidental catastrophe rather than a consciously planned genocide.

Pope Francis, of course, doesn’t have the same diplomatic concerns that American Presidents and other world leaders have, so he is perhaps more free to speak on an issue like this. Additionally, the fact that the Vatican has previously recognized the Armenian Genocide made his statements yesterday not nearly as groundbreaking as some of the headlines would lead you to believe. Nonetheless, the ever sensitive Turks are responding about as you’d expect them to, although it’s probable that the diplomats in Rome expected that this would happen and that what we’re seeing from Istanbul right now is less substance than it appears. In any case, with the 100th anniversary of the 20th Century’s first genocide approaching this month, along with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps by American and Soviet forces, it’s good to see someone actually speaking the truth about this matter. Now, if only there were American leaders willing to do the same thing.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Electroman says:

    I’m a Turkophile, and have commented as such here many times. I’ve been to Turkey many times, had a Turkish girlfriend for a couple of years, and was stationed there while in the Air Force. I love Turkey and its people.

    That being said – they are wrong about this. It was genocide.

  2. lounsbury says:

    re

    Turkey has long resisted efforts by historians and the international community to assign that label to the events of 1915 notwithstanding the fact that they happened when an entirely different nation was ruling what is now Turkey and Armenia.

    – there is a certain degree of irony in these events, given current politics, as the primary actors were… Kurdish speaking Ottoman militias.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I’m liking this Francis guy more and more. I love those moments when some leader cuts the crap and blurts out the truth.

  4. Franklin says:

    @Electroman: Of all the countries in the Middle East, I do have a soft spot for Turkey. But agreed, they are needlessly wrong here.

  5. Gustopher says:

    It it bothers them so much to have people comment on it, perhaps they shouldn’t have committed genocide.

  6. Pinky says:

    There is nothing in the American experience like the Turkish relationship to Ataturk. He’s like all the Founding Fathers and Lincoln put together, and that may be an underestimation. If Turkey did wrong during and after WWI, then Ataturk did wrong, and that’s too great a chasm for Turkey to cross. Interestingly, as the country becomes more religious, Turkey may be able to face the fact of the Armenian genocide, but not as something to be ashamed of.

    You also have to remember that shame about genocide is a fairly new and largely Western phenomenon. In the old days, countries would inflate the number of innocents that they’d successfully slaughtered. Especially post-WWII, we have a hard time understanding that kind of thinking.

  7. Davebo says:

    @Pinky:

    You also have to remember that shame about genocide is a fairly new and largely Western phenomenon.

    I’m guessing you’ve never visited Japan.

  8. Pinky says:

    @Davebo: Japan is a tricky one. It is both a modern and Westernized country, so I’d expect to see some of that apology. But they never embraced the blame for their crimes like the Germans did after the war. There’s also a revisionist theme that Japan was tricked into WWII by Stalin or the US. As for Abe’s visit to the war shrine, I don’t think that’s so much rejection of blame as an attempt to move beyond it, though. (I don’t know enough about him to be sure.)

  9. KM says:

    @Pinky:

    He’s like all the Founding Fathers and Lincoln put together, and that may be an underestimation. If Turkey did wrong during and after WWI, then Ataturk did wrong, and that’s too great a chasm for Turkey to cross.

    **sigh** We have that here too – ask someone from the South what started the Civil War. Watch the fireworks.

    You can be proud of your ancestors and your heritage while admitting they were terribly flawed humans – it’s not an and/or prospect. They get too invested in that dark reflection back; they think if their origins are tainted, then so are they. Dark stains in history are hid so not to “tarnish” a bright future. They can’t separate out their own egos from a external national identity – their ancestors’ crimes are not theirs. They are not bad people unless they choose to be bad people.

    “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” the pope added.

    Genocide is genocide. Go Francis for pointing out the ugly truth.

  10. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    perhaps they shouldn’t have committed genocide

    Perhaps they didn’t. It all depends on pronoun referents.

    Agents of the Ottoman Empire certainly attempted genocide against the Armenians. That nation was not Turkey, and (as pointed out by lounsbury above) the individuals who carried out the atrocity were mostly not part of the ethnic majority of modern Turkey. So would a modern Turk think of the guilty parties as “us”? Should they? It’s not an easy question.

    As an analogy, how much national guilt do you think African-Americans should feel over the genocide of the Native Americans by the English (and Spanish and French) colonists who founded various parts of our nation? How about German-Americans? Irish-Americans? Unlike me, most of their ancestors weren’t actually guilty of any of that…

  11. Pinky says:

    @DrDaveT: Agreed. I wouldn’t even count a genocide against a nation: there is no one alive today who committed the Armenian genocide, so no one alive today can be held responsible. Genocide deniers carry the blame for their own statements, though.

  12. C. Clavin says:

    i know nothing of this genocide.
    But this guy Francis impresses me as the real deal. I mean…I’m not about to start believing in virgin births, of walking on water, or rising up from the dead. But as cult leaders go, you could do much worse. The real question is if the cult members will listen? He called out Republicans on their greed and their unwillingness to aid the poor. I don’t see any hint of change in the GOP…it’s always going to be an organization built solely around protecting the 1%. Same with his statements on gays and the environment. Even though Christ never mentioned homosexuals Christian Republicans have convinced themselves he too would think they are yucky. And he too would think the earths resources were property meant to be channeled into profits for Exxon.
    I don’t believe in God, but if I did I would pray for Her to send Francis to address Congress…the proverbial den of iniquity.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    Oh…wait…the Kardashians are Armenian???
    This changes everything….

  14. Tyrell says:

    Add to this the fact that the Turkish government will not recognize the Christian church in Turkey and there is ongoing violence against Christians there. Maybe the Pope has addressed that, if not he needs to.
    See Alliance For Freedom.

  15. al-Ameda says:

    The annihilation of Armenians in 1915 was definitely a 20th century precursor to later genocides, by Hitler in particular, and Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot too. Hitler knew of the Turk methods in demoralizing and destroying the Armenian population, and he adapted some of those methods – rounding up, jailing and executing leaders and intellectuals – to his Holocaust. It is time for Turkey to acknowledge their genocide.

    Thank you Pope Francis.

  16. Lynn says:

    “Add to this the fact that the Turkish government will not recognize the Christian church in Turkey ”

    Turkey recognizes at least one Christian church: “The first Evangelical entity officially recognized by the government of the Republic of Turkey” http://www.istpcf.org/

  17. Pinky says:

    @KM: We have nothing like that attention focused on a single person.

  18. Pinky says:

    @al-Ameda: The Armenian genocide wasn’t simply the first genocide of the 20th century. And actually, the Boer wars have a decent claim on that title, with multiple groups being nearly driven to extinction from the late 1800’s on. What made Armenia the precursor to the Holocaust was the use of modern technology to coordinate it. You could eliminate small groups of people quickly using old technology, but to do something big and systematic you either need a hundred years or sophisticated methods. Even something as simple as the machete can kill a million Rwandans in a few months, if you’ve got modern command and control systems.

  19. lounsbury says:

    @Pinky:
    Ah…. Attaturk actually criticized this – he was against the Three Pashas (and notably Enver and Talat Pasha) who were the effective architects of the blood-letting (and one might add the semi-deposed Ottoman Sultan [sidelined by the 3 Pashes] wasn’t terribly keen either).

    Rather more queer in the end, the Republic has had plenty of basis to wash its hands of the 3 Pashas and pin everything on their regime. Rather than implicitly own it.

    The Greek issue likely is behind that.

    @Tyrell: What? Are you capable of ever making a post that is not so jaw-droppingly misinformed as to not make one wonder if you’re functionally retarded? The Turkish Republic has had legal establishment of multiple Orthodox churches since foundation. Perhaps they haven’t recognized some snake-handling backwoods American provincial yokel church, one must allow, out of sheer good-taste one would expect.

  20. Loviatar says:

    @lounsbury:

    @Tyrell: What? Are you capable of ever making a post that is not so jaw-droppingly misinformed as to not make one wonder if you’re functionally retarded? The Turkish Republic has had legal establishment of multiple Orthodox churches since foundation. Perhaps they haven’t recognized some snake-handling backwoods American provincial yokel church, one must allow, out of sheer good-taste one would expect.

    Sir, I’ve clicked on the like button several times, but for some reason it only registers once. I’ll inform management of the problem.

  21. Tyrell says:

    @Lynn: Thanks for the information. I am encouraged and hopeful about this organization.

  22. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Pinky: No, on Abe, you’re wrong; it’s a rejection of blame and he has said so on multiple occasions. This is a country that still teaches its children that the comfort women were nearly all professional prostitutes who came to greater Japan to take advantage of expanded employment opportunities in their chosen field.

  23. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @KM: “**sigh** We have that here too – ask someone from the South what started the Civil WarWar of Northern Agression. Watch the fireworks.”
    FTFY

  24. lounsbury says:

    @Tyrell: So in fact your misinformed idiocy is not about Xian Churches – just the right ones, low-church American evangelicals being the Right Xians, not those tawdry Turkish Catholic and Orthodox churches doesn’t really count at all… Need to get the snake-handling American churches to be real Xians.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    @Pinky:

    I don’t have time to find the link but there was an interesting Reddit thread on this. A guy living in Japan says we have a distorted view and that Japanese are very much down on their own behavior in WW2. He sees the Shinto shrine stuff as being about a nearly-dead generation that nevertheless votes. The equivalent of a US pol pandering to the “lost Cause” in the south.

    Interesting sidebar: I was in Tokyo and went to a bizarre thing called the Robot Restaurant of Kabukicho in which bikini-clad girls at one point “fly” across the room while hanging from a B-29. This is a city that was burned to the ground by B-29’s.

    The Japanese are a bit weird.

    Here’s a photo. http://jto.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/nn20121005f5a.jpg

  26. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds: Did you take that picture? One ‘like’ for that.

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @Franklin:
    Nah, I took some though. It’s all much more chaste than it seems. But way weirder. If you ever end up in Tokyo you’ve got to go. It’s like you dropped excellent acid but it doesn’t drag on for 18 hours.

  28. Matt says:

    @michael reynolds: Wow that’s like 1 grand to eat there?

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @Matt:
    I hate to sound all George H.W. Bush not knowing the price of milk, but honestly I don’t recall. Tokyo generally ain’t cheap. We were there in July and it was hot as fu-k so I was in a sh!tty mood. But I loved this place for the surrealism.

  30. Matt says:

    @michael reynolds: I’d be scared to consume any mind altering chemical before that show. WoW.

    It’s really nice to know you can experience that considering your background. I just wanted to make sure I had the cost in the correct area. Exchange rates can be silly sometimes.