Before wrapping up his three-day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis and Kerekin II, the spiritual leader of the Armenian Apostolic Christians, made a joint declaration, warning about the parallels between the Armenian "genocide" in the early 20th Century and the current persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
"Sadly, we are witnessing an immense tragedy unfolding before our eyes, of countless innocent people being killed, displaced or forced into a painful and uncertain exile by continuing conflicts on ethnic, economic, political and religious grounds in the Middle East and other parts of the world," said a joint statement, signed by both spiritual leaders. "As a result, religious and ethnic minorities have become the target of persecution and cruel treatment, to the point that suffering for one¹s religious belief has become a daily reality.
The two religious leaders also sent a plea to other world leaders: "We implore the leaders of nations to listen to the plea of millions of human beings who long for peace and justice in the world, who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns."
In the joint declaration they commemorated once again "The extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century" — echoing the words first used by Pope John II during his trip to the country in 2001."
It was the second time Pope Francis used the term genocide during his first trip to the Caucasian country, and the third in the past year. On Friday, hours after he landed, he departed from a prepared speech calling the slaughter "that genocide," becoming the first pontiff to outspokenly mention the damning term on Armenian soil, despite previous reassurances by the Vatican that he wouldn't do so.
Turkey, which refutes the definition of genocide and maintains that the 1.5 million Armenians killed between 1915 and 1923 were caught in the fog of WWI and the crumbling of the Ottoman empire, reacted angrily: "The term does not comply with the truth," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli, and said the Pope¹s words bore the hallmarks of the ³mentality of the Crusades."
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Holy See hadn't received any formal complaint from Turkey as of Sunday. Responding to Canikli's comments, he said that nothing in Francis' texts or actions had suggested a Crusades-like mentality or spirit.
"It is a spirit of dialogue, of building peace, of building bridges and not walls," Lombardi said.
"The pope is not doing Crusades," he added. "He has said no words against the Turkish people."