Turkish Minister Responds to Pope Francis' Use of Term 'Genocide'

Vatican Spokesman says there is "nothing of the spirit of the crusade" in the Pope's words but rather a spirit of peace and reconciliation.

Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Nurettin Canikli
Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Nurettin Canikli (photo: YouTube)

Turkey's deputy foreign minister has said Pope Francis' use of the term "genocide" in reference to the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the early part of the 20th century was "very unfortunate."

According to Reuters, Nurettin Canikli said: "Like the picture we see with Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU), unfortunately signs of crusaders’ mindset and all of its reflections can be seen both in the Pope and the activities of the papacy." One of the points of contention in the "Brexit" referendum was whether Britain should be backing Turkey's wish to join the EU.  

"The Pope’s statement is no different," he went on. "It is not an objective statement, it is not consistent with reality. Everybody knows this, all of us know, the whole world knows this. Armenians also know this.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi responded to the criticism, telling reporters this afternoon that there is "nothing of the spirit of the crusade" in the Pope's words but a "spirit of peace, of building bridges and not wars." 

Pope Francis used the term “genocide” on Friday at a meeting with the Armenian President and civic leaders. He had already used the term on the centenary of the atrocity last in April last year, resulting in Turkey temporarily recalling its ambassador to the Holy See.

Canikli also referred to a recent parliamentary resolution passed by the German parliament recognizing the 1915 events as “genocide.” He believes both that decision and the Pope's use of the term are “political” and “based on religious factors.”

Father Lombardi told reporters Friday that the Pope changed his mind and departed from the text to say the word "genocide". Father Lombardi said the substance of the word is "very clear" and the Holy See has "never denied what the reality is."

He then went on to stress that the Pope "always speaks in the perspective of peace and reconciliation and dialogue with diferent peoples, nations and cultures", adding that many Armenians and Turks have good relations with each other and "many desire peace and dialogue." He said if they have a memories of the past, it is better to "understand what the lessons of the past are so we can avoid repeating what happened in the future."

For the Armenian people, the mass killing of 1.5 million Armenians in the early part of the 20th century was carried out by the Ottoman Empire authorities as a "systemic extermination policy of the government". They were "slaughtered on ethnic grounds", a crime that later would be termed “genocide”. Turkey believes the number to be exaggerated, and those who were killed were victims of war who also included Turks. 

Father Lombardi told reporters today in Armenia that he invited people to "view correctly what the Pope says" and that the Holy Father has nothing against the Turkish people but rather spoken of the "desire for conciliation" between Armenians and Turks.