ARMENIA, Turkey – Pope Francis on Sunday, April 12, became the first pontiff to publicly utter the word "genocide" to describe Turkey's mass murder of Armenians 100 years ago, following the example of France, Russia and Canada.
Speaking at a mass in Saint Peter's Basilica to mark the centenary of the Ottoman killings of Armenians, the pope quoted a written document signed by John Paul II in 2001, branding the killings as the "first genocide of the 20th century".
Immediately afterwards, Ankara summoned the Vatican envoy to Turkey to request an explanation.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, and have long sought to win international recognition of the massacres as genocide.
Some 20 countries have recognized it as genocide as well as the European Parliament.
But Turkey rejects the claims, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.
France was the first major country to recognize the genocide, while denying it happened is illegal in Switzerland and Slovakia.
However, in December 2013 the European Court of Human Rights said an arrest over denying the Armenian genocide constituted a breach of freedom of expression. That decision is now under review.
In April 2014, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – then prime minister – offered his condolences for the mass killings for the first time.
In January this year, he said Turkey was ready to "pay the price" if found guilty of the massacre.
According to Armenian sources, 200,000 people were killed in clashes with Turks from 1894 to 1909.
In October 1914, the Ottoman Empire was drawn into World War I, siding with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
On April 24, 1915, Turkey arrested thousands of Armenians suspected of hostility to the government.
Two days later a special law was enacted authorizing mass deportations.
The Armenian population of Turkey – now branded as "the enemy within" – in the regions of Anatolia and Cilicia were forced into exile, and they were herded towards the Syrian desert.
Many Armenians were killed on the road and in detention camps.
The Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1920, two years after the establishment of a short-lived independent Armenian state in May 1918 that was eventually swallowed up by the Soviet Union and Turkey.
Uruguay recognized the Armenian genocide in 1965, as have the parliaments of Russia in 1994, Greece in 1996, Italy in 2001, Switzerland in 2003, Canada in 2004, the Netherlands in 2004, Sweden in 2010 and Bolivia in 2014. Argentina's senate recognized it in 2005.
In March this year, 44 US lawmakers introduced a resolution urging President Barack Obama to recognize the mass killings as genocide.
Armenia is home to some 3.2 million people. Eight million others live in the diaspora, mainly in Russia, the Middle East, Canada, the United States and France. – Rappler.com