Pope Francis, visiting the nation of Armenia this weekend, again described the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Empire forces during World War I as a genocide and prayed that such a tragedy never happen again.
The Pope’s remark, using the term “genocide,” came Friday during an address at the presidential palace in Yerevan, the capital, at the start of his three-day trip to the country.
Turkey is vehemently opposed to using that term to describe the Armenian deaths – arguing that it was a war and there were losses on both sides.
Pope Francis’ reference to the Armenian mass killing as “genocide” is a “political statement” that reflects a crusader mentality, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said, according to state broadcaster TRT.
He said the Pope’s comment “is not objective” and it does not reflect reality.
“We know this, the world knows this, the Armenians know this,” Canikli said.
Last year, a similar remark by the Pope was met with anger from Ankara.
On Saturday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Gyumri, visited the Armenian Genocide memorial complex at Tsitsernakaberd and delivered an ecumenical prayer for peace.
According to a Vatican press release, he called the genocide 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.”
“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.”
The Republic of Turkey, which came into being in 1923 after the Ottoman Empire fell last century, strongly denies that a genocide occurred, saying hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians and Turkish Muslims died in intercommunal violence.
It reacted angrily last year when the Pope quoted a remark by Pope John Paul II in 2001 that called the slaughter the “first genocide of the 20th century.” That remark was made at a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian massacres.
Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for about 10 months and its foreign minister called the use of the word “unacceptable.”
Pope Francis “laid a wreath at the foot of the monument, before a group of children who held banners bearing the names of the martyrs of 1915,” the Vatican said, and he wrote in the visitor’s book at the memorial.
“Here I pray, with pain in my heart, that there be no more tragedies such as this, that humanity not forget and know how to conquer evil with good; may God grant peace and consolation to the beloved Armenian people and the whole world.”