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Pope Francis calls Armenian slaughter 'first genocide of 20th century'

Pope Francis on Sunday honored the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians by calling it "the first genocide of the 20th century," a politically explosive pronouncement that will certainly anger Turkey.

world Updated: Apr 12, 2015 13:21 IST
Pope Francis

Pope Francis on Sunday honored the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians by calling it "the first genocide of the 20th century," a politically explosive pronouncement that will certainly anger Turkey.

Francis, who has close ties to the Armenian community from his days in Argentina, defended his declaration by saying it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women, children, priests and bishops who were "senselessly" murdered.

"Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it," he said at the start of a Mass Sunday in the Armenian Catholic rite in St. Peter's Basilica honoring the centenary.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turkey however denies that the deaths constituted a genocide, saying that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Turkey's embassy to the Holy See canceled a planned press conference for Sunday, presumably after learning that the pope would utter the word "genocide" over its objections.

Several European countries recognize the massacres as genocide, though Italy and the United States have avoided using the term officially given the importance they place on Turkey as an ally.