by Andrew Cullen correspondent
April 24 marked the 100th anniversary of the World War I massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces. The Christian Post reported that in the 1915 massacre, 1.5 million Armenians were brutally slaughtered because they would not renounce their Christian beliefs and convert to Islam.
“Armenian women were told they would be spared if they converted to Islam. They were then married into Turkish households or sold in slave markets or taken as sex slaves into brothels for Turkish soldiers, but at least they survived,” German historian Michael Hesemann told the Catholic news agency Zenit. “Armenians weren’t killed because they were Armenians, but because they were Christians.”
At a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica held in commemoration of the massacre, Pope Francis said, “In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ struck your own Armenian people.” In his statement, Pope Francis was referencing a 2001 declaration by the head of the Armenian Church and Pope John Paul II.
However, Turkey was greatly upset by his claim that the killings constituted genocide. Given the fact that Turkish forces were fighting Russian forces, Turkey argues that there was no organized campaign to wipe out Armenians and the casualties were the unfortunate result of wartime.
According to Christianity Today, Turkey’s top cleric and head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Mehmet Gormez, told Reuters in an interview, “The Vatican will come out as the biggest loser if we are all giving account for past sufferings and pain caused.”
“Is the current situation of millions of Syrian refugees much less cause for concern to the Vatican than what happened during the Armenian deportation? I find the Pope’s statement immoral, and can’t reconcile it with basic Christian values,” Gormez concluded.
Gormez also said that the Pope’s comment was the result of Islamophobia, which is rising in Europe. “Islamophobia should be considered a crime against humanity, just like anti-Semitism,” he said.
In a recent tweet, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Pope Francis’ use of the word “genocide” was “out of touch with both historical facts and legal basis,” CNN reported.
“Religious offices are not places through which hatred and animosity are fueled by unfounded allegations,” the tweet reads.