Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that he “condemns” Pope Francis for his use of the expression “genocide” when referring to the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915-1917.
“Whenever politicians, religious functionaries assume the duties of historians, then delirium comes out, not fact,” Erdoğan said at a meeting of the Turkish Exporters Assembly on Tuesday.
“I want to warn the pope to not repeat this mistake and condemn him,” he said.
At a Mass with representatives from the Armenian Catholic church on Sunday, Pope Francis referred to the event as an “immense and senseless slaughter” and called it “the first genocide of the twentieth century,” ending speculation whether the pontiff would risk alienating Turkey by using the term “genocide.”
Francis said that remembering and honoring the victims of the massacre was “necessary, and indeed a duty,” because “whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester.”
“Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it!” he said.
The same day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu responded via Twitter, claiming that the Pope’s words lacked legal and historical credibility.
On Monday, the Pope seemed to justify his decision at his morning Mass, insisting in his homily that Christians must be ready to proclaim the truth boldly, imitating the first Apostles of Jesus who spoke “without fear.” The way of the Church is that of “openness and speaking freely,” he said.
President Erdoğan said he greatly regretted the pontiff’s remarks.
Recalling the pope’s visit to Turkey in 2014, the president said he thought Francis was “a different politician,” adding, “I don’t say a religious functionary.”
“I won’t let historical events be brought out of their own course and turned into a campaign against our country and nation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament will vote on a resolution Wednesday regarding the claims of an Armenian genocide. The body will decide whether to officially name the year 2015 as the centennial of the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire.
The motion noted that an increasing number of EU member states and national parliaments recognize the Armenian genocide. If passed, the Parliament would “pay tribute, on the eve of the Centenary, to the memory of the one-and-a-half million innocent Armenian victims who perished in the Ottoman Empire.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome