Pope To Visit Armenian Genocide Memorial In Yerevan
Emil Danielyan 13.05.2016
Pope Francis will visit an Armenian genocide memorial, attend an ecumenical service in Yerevan’s central square and hold an open-air mass in Gyumri during his upcoming trip to Armenia, it was announced on Friday.
The three-day visit scheduled for June 24-26 will underscore growing links between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches.
According to an official itinerary, Francis will head to the Echmiadzin headquarters of Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II, the supreme head of the Armenian Church, on his arrival in the country. He will meet with Sarkisian after a welcoming ceremony to be held at the Armenian cathedral in Echmiadzin.
“On the morning of June 25, His Holiness Pope Francis will visit Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex and Museum in Yerevan,” read the itinerary separately released by Sarkisian’s and Garegin’s offices.
Francis will thus again pay tribute to some 1.5 million Armenians that were massacred and starved to death by the Ottoman Turks during the First World War. He described the massacres as “the first genocide of the 20th century” during an April 2015 mass at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
Turkey accused the pontiff of distorting history and recalled its ambassador to the Vatican in protest. Armenia denounced the furious Turkish reaction.
The late Pope John Paul II prayed at Tsitsernakabert and recognized the Armenian genocide in a joint declaration with Garegin that was adopted during his historic 2001 visit to Armenia. Francis is also due to issue a joint declaration with Garegin.
Another highlight of the trip will be a Catholic mass which the pontiff will hold at Gyumri’s central square on June 25. Armenia is home to tens of thousands of Catholics following traditional Armenian religious rites. They are concentrated in the northwestern Shirak province, of which Gyumri is the capital.
Thousands of other Armenian Catholics live in Georgia’s Javakheti province bordering Shirak.
A visiting Vatican cardinal inaugurated a newly constructed Armenian Catholic church there last year at a ceremony attended by President Sarkisian. Francis is scheduled to visit the Church Of Holy Martyrs as wells as Gyumri’s Armenian Apostolic cathedral after the liturgy.
Later on June 25, Francis and Garegin will lead an ecumenical service in Yerevan’s central Republic Square.
Pope Confirms Planned Visit To Armenia
Pope Francis plans to pay his first-ever visit to Armenia this year, the Vatican reportedly confirmed on Friday.
The Reuters news agency quoted a Vatican spokesman as saying that the pontiff will most likely to travel to Armenia and spend several days there at the end of June. But the exact dates of the visit have not yet been set, he said.
The Armenian Apostolic Church announced last month that Francis’s trip is “expected in September” and that the Echmiadzin office of its supreme head, Catholicos Garegin II, is “in contact with the Vatican in connection with the visit’s organization.”
Garegin and President Serzh Sarkisian personally invited the pontiff to visit their country in 2014, underlining increased links between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches. Both men attended his papal inauguration in 2013.
One of Francis’s predecessors, John Paul II, and the previous Armenia Church head, Garegin I, laid the groundwork for the rapprochement in 1996 with a joint declaration that put an end to centuries-old theological disputes between the two Christian denominations. John Paul went on to become in 2001 the first Catholic Church leader to set foot on Armenian soil. During that historic trip, he issued a joint declaration with Garegin I describing the 1915 Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.
Francis has publicly reaffirmed the genocide recognition during his papacy, most recently at an April 2015 mass at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. Turkey reacted angrily to his reference to “the first genocide of the 20th century,” accusing the pontiff of distorting history and recalling its ambassador to the Vatican in protest.
Armenia rejected the Turkish criticism. Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian praised Francis for delivering the “important message of solidarity with and support to the Armenian people.”
Francis again paid tribute to Armenians massacred “just for being Christians” after holding a mass with Armenian Catholic Patriarch Gregory Peter XX at the Vatican’s St. Martha chapel in September. He compared their suffering with the ongoing persecution of ancient Christian communities of the Middle East.
Pope Francis Hopes For Better Ties Between Turks, Armenians
Al-Monitor Dec 3 2014
Author: Semih Idiz Posted December 2, 2014
Turkish-Armenian relations were back on the agenda again, if only momentarily, after Pope Francis expressed his "dream" last week of seeing the border between the two countries reopened to contribute to reconciliation between the two estranged nations.
Prospects for the pope's dream, however, looked dim as Turkish analysts indicated that little progress has been made in resolving the issues that divided the sides. Meanwhile, Ankara is bracing itself against the campaign by the Armenian diaspora in the United States to make 2015 the year when the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 under the Ottoman Turkish government is finally recognized by Washington as genocide.
Remarks by Turkish officials show that there is real concern in Ankara that these efforts may succeed on the centenary of the killings.
Armenians, with significant international support, say the events of 1915 amounted to a genocide resulting in the death of 1.5 million Armenians in Anatolia, a claim that Turkey rejects.
Although it acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died during World War I, Turkey says millions of Muslims, including Turks, Kurds and Arabs, also lost their lives during the war.
Aboard the papal flight from Istanbul, after completing his three-day trip to Turkey, the pope was asked why he had not brought up the Armenian issue during his visit, the pope responded only by referring to the message of condolence to the Armenian president that Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued in 2013 while he was still prime minister.
Erdogan's message, which was issued on April 24, the date when Armenians commemorate the 1915 killings, was a first for Turkey. In an indication of how sensitive the topic still is in Turkey, though, Erdogan was lambasted by nationalists for allegedly playing into the hands of the country's enemies, and reinforcing a major calumny against the Turkish nation.
Francis said some found Erdogan's message, which avoids any reference to genocide, to be insufficient, but added that he considered this to be an "extended hand," and therefore a positive development.
"What lies in my heart, however, concerns the Turkish-Armenian border.
If only that border was opened, it would be wonderful. I am aware that there are geopolitical problems that make the opening of the border difficult, but we must pray for reconciliation between these nations," the pope said.
He went on to declare his hope that 2015 would be the year when steps are taken for this reconciliation. Among the "geopolitical problems" he mentioned is the continuing state of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turks and Azerbaijanis are closely related.
Although it was among the first countries to recognize Armenian independence in 1991 -- even though it did not establish diplomatic ties -- Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 after Armenian forces overran the predominantly Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan.
The border has been closed since, although it came close to being opened in 2009, following talks mediated by Switzerland that produced a road map for normalizing ties between Ankara and Yerevan.
The "Zurich Protocols" comprising this road map, however, were stillborn due to intractable differences over the events of 1915 and the status of the Turkish-Armenian border. Yerevan refuses to endorse the 1921 Kars Treaty, signed between Ankara and Moscow, which establishes this border.
Meanwhile, Baku succeeded in agitating Turkish opposition parties and nationalist organizations against the Zurich Protocols by arguing that the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border would mean a strategic defeat for Azerbaijan.
Unable to withstand the pressure, Erdogan traveled to Baku in May 2010 and in an address to the Azeri parliament vowed that the border with Armenia would remain closed until the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is resolved.
International efforts since, under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to negotiate a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia have failed to produce results. There are those, however, who argue that the Turkish-Armenian border will remain closed even if there is peace between these two countries.
Kamer Kasim, an analyst from the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), who focuses on the Caucasus, believes that the problem relating to the Kars Treaty will ensure that the border remains closed, even though it was open prior to 1993.
"Armenia has not officially recognized the Kars Treaty, which means its position on Turkey's territorial integrity remains unclear," Kasim told Al-Monitor. Reminded about Armenian efforts to pressure Turkey in 2015 on the genocide issue, and asked if opening the border could help counter this, Kasim said this would not make much of a difference.
"Armenia's position on genocide recognition is ambivalent. It appears to push for it at times, and withdraws at other times. But the Armenian diaspora is determined on the genocide issue. It will not give up on its efforts even if Turkey and Armenia were to overcome their differences and become strategic partners," Kasim said.
He also argued against those who say that the Turkish-Armenian border should be opened in the name of realpolitik. "Realpolitik tells us that relations between Ankara and Baku are far more strategic than trying to please Armenia or the Armenian diaspora, because of the vast investments by Azerbaijan in Turkey, and the massive energy project underway between the two countries," Kasim said.
He also maintained that Turkish-Armenian relations are not a priority issue for the international community currently given what is taking place in the Middle East and the Black Sea region with regard to Ukraine.
This does not mean, of course, that the powerful Armenian diaspora will be less determined to use the 100th anniversary of the 1915 killings to get the United States to recognize officially that genocide was perpetrated by Turks against Armenians. It tried this for years, but has failed so far due to the strategic importance Washington attaches to Turkey.
Mehmet Yegin, USAK's expert on Turkish-American relations, nevertheless sees a possibility that the Armenian lobby may succeed this time, based on the state of affairs between Ankara and Washington with regard to Syria and other issues in the Middle East.
"There are tensions between Turkey and the US, especially on Syria, at the present time. Vice President [Joe] Biden's recent visit to Turkey reduced these a little, but serious differences remain. If these continue, the Republicans, who recently strengthened their position in Congress, may change their traditional stance of opposing Armenian resolutions against Turkey to punish Ankara," Yegin told Al-Monitor.
There are also officials in Ankara who openly declare that the Armenian lobby might be successful in 2015. Altay Cengizer, who heads the policy planning department at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in an interview with the daily Hurriyet that one of Ankara's "nightmare scenarios" was that the Armenian lobby may succeed in getting the United States to officially recognize the Armenian genocide in 2015.
"I just returned from Washington. I saw the preparations there. Their intention is to leave Turkey facing a past that it can not live down.
This is their aim for 2015," Cengizer said in his Nov. 10 interview.
He went on to declare that if the Armenian lobby is successful in this effort, then Turkey will have no choice but to develop a "post-2015 strategy."
While it is not clear what this strategy might be, it is clear that any recognition by Washington of the events of 1915 as genocide will make normalized ties between Turkey and Yerevan almost impossible, because most Turks believe, rightly or wrongly, that it is Armenia that is really driving the diaspora today.
None of this augurs well for Pope Francis' dream.
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Pope Reaffirms Armenian Genocide Recognition
Francis reiterated his view on the subject during a meeting with the Lebanon-based Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX held at the Vatican this week.
A video report on the meeting circulated by the Catholic TV news agency Rome Reports (Romereports.com) showed him greeting Nerses Bedros and several Armenian Catholics accompanying the patriarch. One of them, a woman, told Francis that her family was a genocide victim as she introduced herself.
“It was the first major genocide of the 20th century,” replied the Pope.
Francis has described the World War I-era deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians as genocide on at least one occasion in the past, when he was Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. Speaking in 2006, he also urged Turkey to acknowledge the genocide.
Armenian Diaspora groups were quick to welcome his latest remarks. Asbarez.com quoted Alfonso Tabakian of the Armenian National Committee of South America as emphasizing the fact that Francis reaffirmed the genocide recognition in his capacity as head of the Roman Catholic Church. “His words transcend any state or religion,” said Tabakian.
The late Pope John Paul II likewise called the slaughter of Ottoman Armenians “the first genocide of the 20th century” when he visited Armenia in 2001. But his successor Benedict XVI, who resigned in March, refrained from using the word genocide with respect to the 1915 massacres.
Ankara Slams Pope Over Armenian Genocide Remarks
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said over the weekend that it summoned the Papal nuncio in Ankara on Friday and told him that the pontiff’s remarks are “absolutely unacceptable.” “It was emphasized that the Holy See should refrain from taking steps that may cause harm to our bilateral relations that may be difficult to repair,” the ministry said in a statement.
Francis called the World War I-era deaths of some 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians “the first major genocide of the 20th century” at a June 3 meeting with Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX.
The Argentine-born pope made similar statements in the past when he served as archbishop of Buenos Aires. They were in tune with the views of many international historians as well as about two dozen countries that have passed resolutions recognizing the genocide.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly disputed that characterization, saying that not only Armenians but also Turks “suffered immensely” in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. “The Armenian view of history, however, selects the Armenian suffering, distorts it in several ways and attempts to present it as a genocide – a crime defined in international law – perpetrated by Turks against Armenians,” read its statement.
“While from the legal point of view no competent international court has taken up the events of 1915 and while differing opinions among scholars clearly exist, third parties in authority should not exploit history for political reasons by passing one-sided judgments,” added the statement.
The ministry also noted that Ankara has long been advocating the creation of a commission of Armenian and Turkish history that would examine those events.
Such a body was envisaged by one of the two normalization agreements signed by Armenia and Turkey in 2009. The Turkish government has made their ratification by Turkey’s parliament conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan.