On Saturday, June 25, 2016, Turkish deputy prime minister Nurettin Canikli called Francis’ comments of the previous day “greatly unfortunate” and said they bore the hallmarks of the “mentality of the Crusades.” When Francis first used the word genocide last year, Turkey withdrew its ambassador for 10 months and accused the Pope of spreading lies.
Canikli said the term “does not comply with the truth”. “Everyone knows that. We all know it, the whole world knows it, and so do the Armenians,” he added. (*)
“The pope is not doing Crusades,” he said Sunday. “He has said no words against the Turkish people.”
Francis made the remarks at the start of his three-day visit and followed up with a call for the world to never forget or minimize the “immense and senseless slaughter.” He wrapped up his trip with a Sunday Mass in the Apostolic cathedral of Holy Echmiadzin and a visit to Armenia’s border with Turkey, closed by the latter since 1992.
Francis has said he would love to see the border reopened, given his longstanding call for countries to build bridges, not walls, at their frontiers. He released a dove of peace near the border at the Khor Virap monastery.
On Saturday, Francis paid his respects at Armenia’s imposing genocide memorial and greeted descendants of survivors of the 1915 massacres.
“Here I pray with sorrow in my heart, so that a tragedy like this never again occurs, so that humanity will never forget and will know how to defeat evil with good,” Francis wrote in the memorial’s guest book. “May God protect the memory of the Armenian people. Memory should never be watered-down or forgotten. Memory is the source of peace and the future.”
Francis also greeted descendants of the 400 or so Armenian orphans taken in by Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI at the papal summer residence south of Rome in the 1920s.
“A blessing has come down on the land of Mount Ararat,” said Angela Adjemian, a 35-year old refugee from Syria who was a guest at the memorial. “He has given us the strength and confidence to keep our Christian faith no matter what.”
Francis raised the importance of memory at an evening prayer in Yerevan’s Republic Square, which drew the largest crowds of his visit, around 50,000 according to Vatican estimates. With Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II by his side and President Serzh Sargsyan in the front row, Francis said even the greatest pain “can become a seed of peace for the future”.
“Memory, infused with love, becomes capable of setting out on new and unexpected paths, where designs of hatred become projects of reconciliation, where hope arises for a better future for everyone,” he said.
He specifically called for Armenia and Turkey to take up the “path of reconciliation” and said: “May peace also spring forth in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
(Abridged and adapted from "The Guardian," June 26, 2016)
(*) Emphasis added ("Armeniaca")