VATICAN (Combined Sources) — Armenia’s efforts to promote greater awareness of the massacre of 1.5 million of its people by Turkey during the fall of the Ottoman empire were given a dramatic boost on Sunday by the pope’s description of the atrocities as “the first genocide of the 20th century” days ahead of the centenary of the event.
Pope Francis used a special mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the anniversary, and referred to “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” of the last century.
“The first, which is widely considered the first genocide of the 20th century, struck your own Armenian people,” the pontiff said. “Bishops and priests, religious women and men, the elderly and even defenseless children and the infirm were murdered.”
Historians estimate that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in state-organized violence between 1915 and 1922. Russia, France and about 20 other countries recognize it as genocide.
Turkey immediately summoned the papal ambassador to Ankara to express its displeasure and later recalled its ambassador from the Vatican. The Foreign Ministry said the pope had contradicted his message of peace and dialogue during a visit to Turkey in November.
Expressing “great disappointment and sadness”, it called the message discriminatory because it only mentioned the pain suffered by Christian Armenians, and not Muslims and other religious groups.