One hundred years ago, the dying Ottoman empire attempted to put down an uprising of Armenian Christians as world war broke out around the globe. Over 1.5 million Armenians died in the conflict, a crime which has often been called the first genocide of the 20th century — but not usually by diplomats or world leaders with ties to modern Turkey. Ankara has demanded complicity in their dodge of the Armenian genocide, and will only allow that a lot of people died in 2015 but that the slaughter doesn’t meet the legal definition of genocide. Pope Francis refused to follow that common line of reference among Western nations seeking to retain ties to Turkey, openly stating that the Armenian genocide preceded the more well-known atrocities of later years, and is part of a long war being fought in the post-imperial period:
The pope, speaking at a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the 100 years since the killings, addressed the massacres in the context of the contemporary persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. That subject has become an increasingly pressing theme for Pope Francis—who, before becoming pontiff, had close ties to Buenos Aires’s overwhelmingly Christian Armenian community.
Even as he has continued to call for better relations between Catholicism and Islam, the pope has urged Muslim leaders to denounce the actions of extremists and pushed Christians of different churches to stand together in the face of anti-Christian violence.
The pope’s statement is a boost for Armenia’s decadeslong campaign to define the killings as genocide, as well as a setback for Turkey’s efforts to fend off the accusations of systematic killing. …
Pope Francis said Sunday that “it is necessary, and indeed a duty,” to “recall the centenary of that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter whose cruelty your forbears had to endure…Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.”
Turkey wasted no time in challenging the pontiff’s recognition of the Armenian genocide:
Turkey said it summoned the Vatican’s ambassador to Ankara, Archbishop Antonino Lucibello, to seek an explanation over the comments.
The foreign ministry said it felt “great disappointment and sadness” at the Pope’s remarks, which it said would cause a “problem of trust” between them.
“The Pope’s statement, which is far from the legal and historical reality, cannot be accepted,” tweeted Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“Religious authorities are not the places to incite resentment and hatred with baseless allegations,” he added.
Diplomatically, this raises the stakes for the West. The US has spent decades treading a very narrow line, trying to satisfy both sides while alienating neither, as has its NATO partners. Last year’s statement by Barack Obama on Armenian Remembrance Day parallels that of his predecessors; it mentions “horror,” “atrocities,” and the 1.5 million Armenians who were “massacred or marched to their deaths,” and demands a “full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts,” but never uses the G-word. With more sanctimony and hypocrisy than usually found in these statements Obama adds, “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed” — and then goes on to say nothing at all about the genocide that happened.
Turkey has been a key member of the alliance, allowing NATO to project strength into the Middle East. Open recognition of the Armenian genocide would risk that, and potentially upset American plans for fighting in the region against a host of threats. One has to wonder, though, whether that’s worth keeping Turkey in the fold any longer. Ankara has shifted away from its secular path, dramatically so over the last few years. The rise of ISIS has had significant boosts from Turkey’s open door that allowed the radicals to flock to the banner of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a way to unseat Bashar al-Assad. The Turks have become part of the problem in the region in significant ways, and its latest crackdown on journalists attempting to cover the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pushed it farther from the West in terms of temperament and ideology. The rise of Russia makes NATO want to count its blessings, to be sure, but the Turks have made themselves into a problem — and played a role in yet another chapter of genocide, albeit indirectly, a century after the Ottoman Empire’s final genocide.
Later today, I’ll talk with my good friend King Banaian about Pope Francis’ comments and the stakes involved on Relevant Radio, starting at 3 ET.