Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has condemned Pope Francis, warning him to not repeat the “mistake” of describing the mass killings of Ottoman Armenians as “genocide.”
The president said he greatly regretted the pontiff’s weekend remarks in which the leader of the world’s Catholics referred to the killings of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
“Whenever politicians, religious functionaries assume the duties of historians, then delirium comes out, not fact. Hereby, I want to repeat our call to establish a joint commission of historians and stress we are ready to open our archives. I want to warn the pope to not repeat this mistake and condemn him,” Erdoğan said at a meeting of the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) on April 14.
“In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies,” the pope said. “The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ struck your own Armenian people,” he said in the presence of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.
Recalling the pope’s visit to Turkey in 2014, the president said he thought the pope was “a different politician.” “I don’t say a religious functionary,” he added.
“His remarks display the appearance of a mentality different to that of a religious functionary,” Erdoğan said. “I won’t let historical events be brought out of their own course and turned into a campaign against our country and nation.”
The pope made the pronouncement during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica commemorating the centenary that was attended by Armenian church leaders and Sargsyan. Francis said it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women and children who were “senselessly” murdered by Ottoman Turks.
On April 13 the European Union urged Turkey and Armenia to normalize ties.
EU foreign affairs spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said the EU was encouraging the two countries “to consider additional, meaningful steps that would pave the way toward full reconciliation.”
Armenia says up to 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians were killed in a genocide starting in 1915. Turkey denies that the deaths amounted to genocide, saying the death toll of Armenians killed during mass deportations has been inflated and that those killed in 1915 and 1916 were victims of general unrest during World War I.