Pope Francis traveled to Armenia this week to recognize the struggles of the first Christian nation. Francis praised the tiny nation of only 3 million people for declaring Christianity as their state religion in the year 301 and remaining steadfast in the faith into the present day. ABC News reported the Pope made a point of calling the Armenian massacre of 1915 genocide.
The Armenian genocide began in April of 1915 and continued through 1923. It occurred during WWI, while Armenia was part of the Ottoman-Turk Empire, according to History. While most historians refer to this massacre of between 1 million and 2 million Armenians as genocide, History explains the Turkish government disagrees, saying the numbers are inflated and genocide was not the intent.
Pope Francis Spoke of Martyrdom as a sign of holiness, in connection with Armenia’s long history of persecution. Not only was Armenia, a devoutly Christian nation, part of the Ottoman Empire from 1500 until 1923, it became part of the Soviet Union soon after the massacre of the majority of its people during the first world war. Finally, after centuries of occupation, it is an independent Christian nation but surrounded almost entirely by Muslim nations.
The Armenian genocide was said to have included execution of intellectual Armenians first, followed by forced marches of citizens through the desert, without food clothing or shelter. Killing squads drowned Armenians in rivers, threw them off cliffs, and crucified some, while burning others alive. According to History, in 1922 there were only 388,000 Armenians left in the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish government contends that the killings were a war measure, and that the Armenians took sides against them during the WWI conflict. Turkey sided with Germany and suspected the Armenians of siding with Russia.
Pope Francis made comments while in Armenia that could strain relations between Turkey and the Vatican, according to the Wall Street Journal. Last year, the Pope angered Turkey when he spoke about the Armenian genocide. Armenians are asking Turkey for reparations according to ABC News, and Turkey does not want the Pope to substantiate their claims by referring to the historical event as a genocide. Last year, Francis called it the first of three tragedies, according to NPR.
“The first genocide of the 20th century, was against you, the Armenian people… [One of] three massive and unprecedented tragedies”
The Pope cited the Holocaust and the 1920’s man-made famine in the Ukraine as the other two tragedies that followed the Armenian genocide.
Pope Francis, again, risked angering Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Last year, President Erdogan condemned the Pope for describing the historical incident as genocide and asked him not to repeat what he said again. Well, today, Francis did repeat much of what he said last year and added more, as quoted by ABC News.
“Sadly that tragedy, that genocide, was 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,”
The Armenian Genocide reference was a last minute addition to the Pope’s speech, according to ABC News. The phrase earned a standing ovation from the crowd in Armenia.
Pope Francis brought his twin message of honoring the martyrs and condemning those who kill in the name of religion, home to the modern world.
“It is vitally important that all those who declare their faith in God join forces to isolate those who use religion to promote war, oppression and violent persecution, exploiting and manipulating the holy name of God,”
Pope Francis paralleled the Armenian genocide with the modern day killing of Christians and other minorities by religious extremists in recent years.
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