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April 24 marks the anniversary of the Armenian genocide where more than 1.5 million Christians were annihilated by the Islamic Ottoman Empire.
Modern-day Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, continues to deny that genocide occurred even though Muslims systematically killed unarmed Armenian Christian men, women and children — most of whom were inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire — in a two-year period from 1915–1917. In addition to mass murder, the well-documented atrocities included:
The attacks targeting unarmed civilians were so massive that the term genocide was coined in 1943 by Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin just to describe it. Pope Francis referred to the atrocity as a genocide.
While saying Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in 2015 in the presence of many Armenians attending a ceremony honoring their own St. Gregory Narek, Pope Francis related: "The first genocide of the 20th century struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Bishops and priests, religious, women and men, the elderly and even defenseless children and the infirm were murdered."
This statement by Pope Francis drew strong criticism from Muslim-dominated Turkey, which has tried to prevent countries, including the Holy See, from officially recognizing the Armenian massacre as genocide. Reacting to the papal statement, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted, "The pope's statement, which is far from historic and legal truths, is unacceptable. Religious positions are not places where unfounded claims are made and hatred is stirred."
Turkey also withdrew its ambassador from the Vatican for 10 months.
Pope Francis was repeating what Pope St. John Paul II penned on the 1,700th anniversary of Armenia becoming the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion. In 1981, John Paul referred to "the extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century."
In 2016, Pope Francis again upset Turkey when, on his visit to Armenia, he went off script to say, "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."
Watch the panel discuss the Armenian genocide in The Download—Armenia's Agony.