Pope announces trips to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia

Agence France-Presse
The news comes amid tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region

Pope Francis in December 2013. File photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis will visit Armenia and Azerbaijan later this year, the Vatican announced on Saturday, April 9, amid tensions in the region following a flare-up of violence over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

At the invitation of the Armenian Apostolic Church patriarch Karekin II, the pope will travel to Armenia from June 24 to 26. He will visit Georgia and Azerbaijan from September 30 to October 2, the Vatican said in a statement.

This month has seen the worst outbreak of violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh since the 1990s, with more than 90 people killed in 4 days of heavy fighting followed by sporadic clashes. (READ: Fragile truce largely holds in Karabakh after deadly clashes)

Armenia-backed separatists seized control of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave within Azerbaijan’s territory populated mainly by Christian ethnic Armenians, in an early 1990s war that claimed some 30,000 lives.

The visit could also heighten tensions with Turkey, which is already unhappy with the pope’s use of the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire – the forerunner of the modern Turkish state – a century ago.

Like Armenia, Georgia is a predominantly Orthodox Christian country with a small Roman Catholic minority, while Azerbaijan is largely Muslim.

Between the two visits to the Caucasus region, the pope will visit Poland from July 27-31 where he will attend the World Youth Day celebrations in Krakow. – Rappler.com

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