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Turkey Rejects Pope’s Comments on Armenian Genocide

Pope Francis, left, and Armenia's Orthodox Church leader Karekin II, during a service April 12 at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Pope Francis, left, and Armenia's Orthodox Church leader Karekin II, during a service April 12 at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Turkish officials have strongly criticized Pope Francis for his use of the word “genocide” to describe the mass killing of Armenians in 1915. Turkey’s government ordered its ambassador to the Vatican to return home to protest the comments of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed around the time of World War I. Most were living in the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed after the war.

The Turkish government has repeatedly refused to use the word genocide to describe the killings. But Pope Francis used it in comments he made Sunday at the Vatican. The pope spoke at a special service marking the 100th anniversary of the mass killing by the Ottoman rulers. Turkey was once part of the Ottoman Empire. Armenian religious leaders were among those attending the service.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned Pope Francis for using the word genocide.

He said it is wrong for someone with the power of the pope to speak of these deaths in a one-sided way.

The Turkish government argues that the number of Armenians reported killed in 1915 is overstated. And it says those who were killed died during a civil war.

The Turkish prime minister accused the pope of prejudice -- making a judgment without knowing all the facts.

He said he expects religious leaders to call for peace. Opening up old issues for those who have an opinion that they will not change serves no purpose.

The Turkish leader warned that the pope’s comments could lead to greater hatred against Muslims living in Europe. He also said the comments were in conflict with the message Pope Francis gave during his visit to Turkey in November.

The Turkish government showed its displeasure by ordering the Vatican representative to come to Turkey’s foreign ministry. It then ordered its ambassador to the Vatican to return home for discussions.

Observers say the prime minister’s comments may have been influenced by politics. Turkey is preparing for general elections, and nationalists are an important part of his party.

The Turkish government is in a diplomatic struggle with Armenia and the Armenian community overseas. Armenians are working to gain greater recognition of the genocide claims as part of the 100th anniversary of the killings. Turkey is seeking to block those efforts. Observers say the pope’s comments are likely to help the Armenians. More than 20 countries recognize the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 as genocide.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Dorian Jones reported this story from Istanbul. George Grow wrote it for VOA Learning English. Christopher Jones-Cruise was the editor.


Words in This Story

genocide n. a plan of action to kill or destroy a national, religious, racial or ethnic group

protestv. to speak against; to object

service n. a religious ceremony

prejudice n. an unfair feeling of dislike for someone or something because of race, sex or religion; a feeling of like or dislike for someone or something, especially when it is not reasonable

Do you believe the 1915 mass killings of Armenians was genocide? Or do you believe the killings are overstated? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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