Fo­cus on ‘geno­cide’ in pope’s Ar­me­nian Mass

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Pope Fran­cis on Sun­day will de­clare a lit­tle-known 10th-cen­tury Ar­me­nian mys­tic a doc­tor of the church, one of the high­est hon­ors a pope can be­stow. More at­ten­tion, though, is likely to be on whether Fran­cis ut­ters the word “geno­cide” dur­ing his homily.

Fran­cis is mark­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the killing of an es­ti­mated 1.5 mil­lion Ar­me­ni­ans by the Ot­toman Em­pire by cel­e­brat­ing a Mass in the Ar­me­nian Catholic rite in St. Peter’s Basil­ica. The Ar­me­nian pa­tri­arch, Nerses Be­dros XIX Tar­mouni, will con­cel­e­brate and the Mass will be at­tended by Ar­me­nian Pres­i­dent Serzh Sargsyan.

It’s a big deal for the Ar­me­ni­ans, who in the run-up to the cen­te­nary have been cam­paign­ing for greater recog­ni­tion that the slaugh­ter con­sti­tuted geno­cide. It’s also a big deal for Turkey, which has long de­nied that the deaths con­sti­tuted geno­cide, in­sisted that the toll has been in­flated, and that those killed were vic­tims of civil war and un­rest.

Fran­cis avoided the word on Thurs­day when he met the vis­it­ing Ar­me­nian church del­e­ga­tion, but said that what tran­spired 100 years ago in­volved men “who were ca­pa­ble of sys­tem­at­i­cally plan­ning the an­ni­hi­la­tion of their broth­ers.”

“Let us in­voke di­vine mercy so that for the love of truth and jus­tice, we can heal ev­ery wound and bring about con­crete ges­tures of peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween two na­tions that are still un­able to come to a rea­son­able con­sen­sus on this sad event,” he said.

His­to­ri­ans es­ti­mate that up to 1.5 mil­lion Ar­me­ni­ans were killed by Ot­toman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by geno­cide schol­ars as the first geno­cide of the 20th cen­tury. Sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries rec­og­nize the mas­sacres as such, though Italy and the United States, for ex­am­ple, have avoided us­ing the term of­fi­cially given the im­por­tance they place on Turkey as an ally.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports in the Turk­ish me­dia, Turkey has been work­ing be­hind the scenes to dis­cour­age Fran­cis from ut­ter­ing the term “geno­cide” and re­port­edly suc­cess­fully cam­paigned to pre­vent the pa­pal Mass from be­ing cel­e­brated on April 24, which is con­sid­ered the ac­tual an­niver­sary of the start of the slaugh­ter.

Last year, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan is­sued a mes­sage of con­do­lences to descen­dants of Ar­me­ni­ans killed and said Turkey was ready to con­front the his­tory of the killings. More re­cently, Er­do­gan has ac­cused Ar­me­ni­ans of not look­ing for the truth but seek­ing to score points against Turkey, say­ing nu­mer­ous calls from Turkey for joint re­search to doc­u­ment pre­cisely what hap­pened had gone unan­swered.

On Sun­day, Fran­cis will de­clare the revered mys­tic St. Gre­gory of Narek a doc­tor of the church. Only 35 peo­ple have been given the ti­tle, which is re­served for those whose writ­ings have greatly served the uni­ver­sal church.

Gre­gory, who lived around 950 to 1005, is con­sid­ered one of the most im­por­tant fig­ures of me­dieval Ar­me­nian re­li­gious thought and lit­er­a­ture.


In this Feb. 22, 2008 file photo re­leased by the Vat­i­can’s L’Osser­va­tore Ro­mano news­pa­per, Pope Bene­dict XVI, left fore­ground, is seen dur­ing a cer­e­mony with Ar­me­nian Catholic pa­tri­arch Nerses Be­dros XIX Tar­mouni, at right in black, for St. Gre­gory “the Il­lu­mi­na­tor” at the Vat­i­can.

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