Armenian spiritual leader decries genocide denial

By Ecumenical News International
May 17, 2008

Catholicos Karekin II of the Armenian Apostolic Church, visiting Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, has spoken of the "genocide" suffered by his compatriots in the Ottoman empire, and said that those with power should ensure that justice prevails - writes Luigi Sandri.

"We ... appeal to all nations and lands to universally condemn all genocides that have occurred throughout history and those that continue through the present day," Karekin said in St Peter's Square on 7 May, where he had been invited by Pope Benedict to speak at the pontiff's general audience.

"The denial of these crimes is an injustice that equals the commission of the same," noted Karekin, who holds the title of "Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians".

Armenia says 1.5 million of its people died between 1915 and 1923 in a systematic genocide initiated by the Young Turks' government ruling then in Istanbul. Turkey, however, rejects the term "Armenian genocide" and says mass removals were intended to clear people from a war zone. It acknowledges that people died, but holds that the number was far less than that given by Armenia.

Karekin was accompanied by Armenian bishops from North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East for his 5-12 May visit to Rome, which followed an earlier visit to the Vatican in 2000, when he met Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

"Today many countries of the world condemn the genocide made by the Ottomans against the Armenian people, as John Paul II said when I was in Rome," noted Karekin, who received Pope John Paul in Armenia in 2001.

Two days after Karekin spoke at St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict received the Armenian delegation at the Vatican. At the meeting, Benedict said, "The recent history of the Armenian Apostolic Church has been written in the contrasting colours of persecution and martyrdom, darkness and hope, humiliation and spiritual re-birth."

Still, noted the Agence France-Press in a report, Pope Benedict did not employ the word "genocide" that had been used by his predecessor.

The Pope and the Catholicos underlined the achievements of the Armenian-Catholic ecumenical dialogue during the past 12 years to seek greater Christian unity.

Karekin II invited the pontiff to visit Armenia, and expressed the hope that the international community would support the right to self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated region situated in neighbouring Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliev, suggested earlier during 2008 that his country could use force to regain control over Nagorno-Karabakh. The area has been under ethnic Armenian control since a 1994 cease-fire ended a six-year war.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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