Vatican debunks Turkey’s ‘crusader pope’ accusations in Armenia genocide row

Pope Francis (L) arrives with Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II at the Khor Virap monastery, Armenia, June 26, 2016. © Alessandro Bianchi
The Vatican has defended the pope’s stand on the Armenian genocide as an ideology aimed at bringing peace and reconciliation, not war, and rebuking Ankara’s vocal criticism of Francis’ alleged “crusader” mentality.

Repeated references to the 1915 Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks made by Pope Francis during his three-day visit to Armenia, has sparked condemnation by Turkish officials.

After the pontiff made his first statement on the topic as soon as he arrived in Yerevan on Friday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli called Francis’ statements “greatly unfortunate” which Ankara does not “take seriously.”

“The goal is to squeeze Turkey in the corner,” said Canikli on Saturday, accusing Francis of siding with European Union values. “It is, unfortunately, possible to see all the reflections and traces of crusader mentality in the actions of the papacy and the pope.”

Turkey denies orchestrating the genocide of over 1 million Armenians that were living in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Ankara maintains that Armenians killed a century ago were victims of World War I.

On Sunday, the director of the Vatican Press Office has strongly dismissed Turkish accusations of a ‘Crusades’ mentality when the pope used the word ‘genocide’ to describe the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians a century ago.

Father Federico Lombardi said that neither Francis' statements nor his actions ever suggested a Crusades-like mentality of the pontiff. The focus of Francis, according to Vatican is to resurrect the “spirit of dialogue.”

“The pope is on no crusade,” Lombardi said. “He is not trying to organize wars or build walls but he wants to build bridges... he has said no words against the Turkish people,” Vatican Radio reported.

Despite steaming criticism from Turkey, the Pope has once again made a reference to the tragic events of last century when he remembered the “victims of hatred” for the third consecutive day, as he concluded his tour of Armenia.

“May the Armenian Church walk in peace and may the communion between us be complete,” Francis said at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy in the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in Etchmiadzin. “Let us respond to the appeal of the saints, let us listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith.

“Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions...may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles,” Francis added.

t