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Pope’s visit to Armenian genocide memorial may strain tensions with Turkey

Pope Francis embraces Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II during a mass on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian mass killings, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 12, 2015. Pope Francis commemorated the 100th anniversary of the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians as "the first genocide of the 20th century," words that could draw an angry reaction from Turkey. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Tony Gentile

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis will visit the Armenian Genocide memorial complex during a three-day visit to the country in June, a move that may strain the Vatican’s diplomatic relations with Turkey.

The pope will travel to the Tsitsernakaberd site in southern Armenia on June 25, spending an hour at the memorial, the Vatican announced on Friday (May 13). The complex commemorates up to 1.5 million Armenians killed between 1915 and 1923 under the Ottoman Empire.

Francis’ trip to the site carries huge significance, following the pontiff’s description of the killings as “the first genocide of the 20th century.”

The pope’s use of the term genocide, during an Armenian rite Mass at the Vatican last year, angered Turkey, which disputes the death toll and argues the killings 100 years ago did not amount to genocide.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, at the time said the pope’s comments were unacceptable.

“Religious offices are not places to incite hatred and revenge with baseless accusations,” said Cavusoglu. He also recalled Turkey’s ambassador to the Holy See.

Francis’ visit to Tsitsernakaberd could further dent diplomatic relations between Ankara and the Holy See and is expected to be a focal point of the pope’s Armenia tour.

Armenia has a population of 3 million, although an estimated 8-10 million people of Armenian descent live outside the country. 

An estimated 93 percent of the population affiliate with the Armenian Apostolic tradition, the country’s national church, while just under 14,000 are Catholic, according to Armenia’s 2011 census.

Arriving in the capital Yerevan on June 24, the pope’s first day will include a prayer at the Apostolic Cathedral at Etchmiadzin, the center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. As is customary on a papal trip, Francis will also meet various political and diplomatic figures while in the capital.

After the pope’s visit to Tsitsernakaberd he will be flown from Yerevan to Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city, where he will hold an open-air Mass in Vartanants Square. Francis will also visit the city’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Seven Wounds and the Armenian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Martyrs in Gyumri.

Crowds are expected in the capital for the pope’s open-air prayer for peace during the evening of June 25. Francis’ final day in Armenia will include meetings with religious leaders and the signing of a joint declaration.

The pope’s participation in the Divine Liturgy in Yerevan’s Armenian Apostolic cathedral is also on the schedule, along with a visit to the Khor Virap monastery, close to the Turkish border.

(Rosie Scammell is the Vatican correspondent for RNS)

About the author

Rosie Scammell

Rosie Scammell is a British journalist with extensive experience reporting for leading international news organizations. She has been based in Italy since 2012 and covers the Vatican for RNS.


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  • Those who refuse to acknowledge the mistakes of the past are surely going to end up repeating them !

  • How dare the Pope distract Turkey from its focus on killing Kurds and helping Saudi Arabian supported Sunni fanatics ethnically cleanse the areas of Syria they control of any minorities, including Christians.

  • What is wrong with the EU, the number one requirement to even consider joining is for Turkey to admit and apologize for the Armenian genocide. What are they waiting on, for the same thing to happen to the Kurds before anyone has the backbone to say anything. The US and the EU have slapped sanctions on other countries for less.

  • Christians compromised 20 percent of turkish population at that point. today less than 2 and even less. I understand war and you getting rid of a support system. Its when Trump says we go after the terrorist families. Lets face it muslims today wish America didnt intervene in their countries and helped Israel. I understand that. However Americans who feel they can do that and feel they are fighting for freedom may think otherwise. The majority are the Americans who look at it as self defense, yet the muslims look at it as weary of the nation even though they inhabit it. Does that give us the right to feel uneasy and make their life uncomfortable? As long as they don’t hurt anyone than no. Armenians were like the muslims of their respective nation and many of them were good people, but many didnt support Turkey and did support Russia. Just like if Palestine goes to war with Israel(American ally) a muslim will more likely support Palestine. So like Trump(the same people Muslims and Turks dislike here in America who support Turkish “war” against Armenians) he feels he has the right to go after everyone and its wrong. To justify the actions of the Turkish empire at the time is plain wrong because you wake up today in Turkey and while everything looks fine you literally eliminated history and you took out their woman and children. You were not accountable for your actions and i don’t care how you justify it, but if you Turks justify that then you should think about living in America and supporting Palestine or Erdogan who truthfully does not serve our interests(America or Europe) and if there would be a combat war we know what side you would pick as well yet it should never justify displacement and suffering and demise of a population.

  • The Armenian genocide is an evil of the past that Turkey refuses to admit and attacks those who bring it up. They are increasingly malignant in the present, persecuting Kurds and supporting terrorists in the Middle East. It is long past time they should be called out for this behavior…

  • The Muslim Seljuk Turks were the cause of the Crusades, their attack and slaughter of Christian pilgrims, and the especially gruesome violation and murder of its women is similar to modern day ISIS atrocities.

    The Muslim Turks destroyed the Christian population in Asia Minor, and only so many remain. Many converted to Islam within 2 generations because of the lack of livelihood and survival.

    The Child Tax…taking the first born/brightest Christian son to make him a Jannissery only in turn to kill Christians

    The Turks converted so many Christian churches into mosques. Russia’s Putin offered to take care of the Muslim staked Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul).

    Muslim Turkey wiped out the ancient city of Smryna in 1922….and now it is renamed Izmir.

    It is incredible Turkey’s Edgordan accuses P Francis of behaving as a Crusader defending the incredible inhumane slaughter of the Armenians….and many other Christians since Turkey’s beginning slaughtering and overtaking peaceful people.

  • The Pope knows Turkey’s history very well….Russia has been to war with Turkey 9 times, winning 7 wars.

    He is speaking out for all people of the Middle East.

    Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar –whose livelihood is based on human slavery — have hidden forces supporting ISIS, instigating the migrants into Europe and elsewhere to promote Islam all throughout the world.

    Edgordan has leanings very similar to the Nazis..

    and it is the Turks’ pogroms of the Armenians that taught the Nazis various ways of elimination of unwanted people.

    Remember, ancient Christian populations of the MIddle East are now suffering genocide and destruction of their culture, their monasteries, their churches…and the Pope has no army to defend them….

  • What Turkey has done to the elimination of Christianity….and the cause of 80 million deaths in India…

    Our American Navy stood by and did nothing to rescue the Christians of Smyrna who were suffering horrific deaths…this only a short while ago …1922.

  • There are two problems with what may be “Turkish readers’ comments”. One problem is that they can be ignorant, depending on and repeating “facts” based on what was taught in an educational system that does not honestly portray what happened. The other is that if a Turkish reader says anything that is against the Turkish government view and that reader lives in Turkey there is always the chance that he or she will be tracked down and murdered for being unpatriotic lying infidel scum. Hard to get a good dialogue under those conditions.

  • Someone wrote in a comment that there seems to be a shortage of “Turkish reader comments”, assuming that all Turkish readers would repeat the same falsehoods that they learned in school. One of the problems is that anyone who is identifiable as living in Turkey who says anything against the official patriotic government line risks being hunted down and either thrown in jail or murdered. That puts a damper on dialogue.