Pope Francis denounced what he called the ideologically twisted and planned “genocide” of Armenians by Ottoman-era Turks a century ago on a visit to Armenia for a deeply symbolic weekend visit to mark the centenary of the massacre.
In the most carefully watched speech of his visit, Francis ad-libbed the key word “genocide” to his prepared text that had conspicuously left it out.
And rather than merely repeat what had said last year – that the slaughter was “considered the first genocide of the 20th century,” Francis declared it genocide flat out on the first day of his three-day visit to the country.
In the run-up to the visit, the Vatican had backed off using the term “genocide,” mindful of Turkish opposition to the political and financial implications of the word given Armenian claims for reparations.
But Francis added the word in at the last minute in a speech at the presidential palace to President Serzh Sargsyan, Armenian political and religious leaders and the diplomatic corps.
They gave him a standing ovation.
Many historians consider the massacres of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians genocide.
Turkey rejects the term, says the death figure is inflated and that people died on both sides as the Ottoman Empire collapsed amid World War I.
The US administration, keen to avoid alienating Turkey which is a NATO ally, tends to avoid using the word genocide.
However, as both a senator and a presidential candidate, Barack Obama described the killings in very clear terms.
“The Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence,” he stated in 2006.