Pope Francis intends to visit Armenia in 2015 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, the pontiff told a delegation from the Eastern European country last week.
The pontiff also referred to the mass killings of Armenians during World War I as "the first genocide of the 20th century."
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"This recognition of the Armenian Genocide as the first genocide of the 20th century reaffirms the statements of John Paul II, [which were made] upon his arrival in Armenia on Sept. 25, 2001, demonstrating that more and more states, parliaments, and international organizations are adopting this position against the denial of history perpetrated by the Turkish state,"
Dr. Alfonso Tabakian, director of the Armenian National Committee of South America, told Armenian Weekly.
Pope Francis' comment about the genocide angered the Turkish government, which has long been blamed for the mass killings of Armenians. Turkey has denied that the genocide ever actually happened.
"It cannot be business as usual while accusing a nation of genocide," Turkish Ambassador Tuncay Babali said. "It's a serious allegation. It needs to be substantiated, legally, historically."
Armenian Apostolic Church Diocese of Gougark Bishop Sebouh Chuljyan Primate defended the pope's remarks.
"The pope is speaking out a historical truth,"
he told the Hurriyet Daily News. "Turkey needs to see the pains and should face the genocide."
This isn’t the first time Pope Francis has publically referenced the Armenian genocide.
At events commemorating the killings' 91st anniversary in 2006, while he was still a cardinal in Argentina, he said the mass killings were the "gravest crime of Ottoman Turkey."
A Turkish official suggested that the pope's scheduled visit to the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul could be in jeopardy after his Armenian genocide comment.
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