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GENOCIDE

Turkey slams Pope’s Armenia ‘genocide’ claim

Pope Francis uttered the word "genocide" on Sunday to describe the mass murder of Armenians 100 years ago, sparking fury from Turkey which slammed the term as "far from historical reality".

Turkey slams Pope's Armenia 'genocide' claim
Pope Francis leaves at the end of an Armenian-Rite mass marking 100 years since the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a solemn mass in Saint Peter's Basilica to mark the centenary of the Ottoman killings of Armenians, Francis said the murders were "widely considered 'the first genocide of the 20th century'," quoting a statement signed by Pope John Paul II and the Armenian patriarch in 2001.

Many historians describe the First World War slaughter as the 20th century's first genocide, but Turkey hotly denies the accusations.

"The Pope's statement, which is far from the legal and historical reality, cannot be accepted," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter.

"Religious authorities are not the places to incite resentment and hatred with baseless allegations," he added.

The foreign ministry summoned the Vatican envoy to Ankara to explain the Pope's comments.

It accused the pontiff of engaging in a "one-sided narrative" that ignored the suffering of Muslims and other religious groups at that time.

While Francis did not use his own words to describe the killings as genocide, it was the first time the term was spoken aloud in connection with Armenia by a head of the Roman Catholic Church in Saint Peter's Basilica.

"It was a very courageous act to repeat clearly that it was a genocide," Vatican expert Marco Tosatti told AFP.

"By quoting John Paul II, he strengthened the Church's position, making it clear where it stands on the issue," he added.

'Evil wounds fester'

The Argentine Pope described the "immense and senseless slaughter" and spoke of the duty to "honour their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester."

The 78-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church had been under pressure to use the term "genocide" publicly to describe the slaughter, despite the risk of alienating an important ally in the fight against radical Islam.

Before becoming Pope, Jorge Bergoglio used the word several times in events marking the mass murders, calling on Turkey to recognize the killings as such.

As Pope, Francis is said to have used it once during a private audience in 2013 – but even that sparked an outraged reaction from Turkey.

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.

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.

More than 20 nations, including France and Russia, recognize the killings as genocide.

Vatican expert John Allen said ahead of the mass that the "truly bold" thing for Francis to do was "show restraint" – something the Pope may feel he has achieved by uttering the word "genocide" but only while quoting his Polish predecessor.

When Francis visited Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered the pontiff a pact under which he would defend Christians in the Middle East in exchange for the Church tackling Islamophobia in the West, Allen said – describing it as "a potential game-changer".

'Muffled and forgotten cry'

In 2014, Erdogan, then premier, offered condolences for the mass killings for the first time, but the country still blames unrest and famine for many of the deaths.

Francis said the other two genocides of the 20th century were "perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism", before pointing to more recent mass killings in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia.

"It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood," he said.

The Armenian victims a century ago were Christian and although the killings were not openly driven by religious motives, the pontiff drew comparisons with modern Christian refugees fleeing Islamic militants.

He referred once again to the modern day as "a time of war, a third world war which is being fought piecemeal", and evoked the "muffled and forgotten cry" of those "decapitated, crucified, burned alive, or forced to leave their homeland."

"Today too we are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference," he said.

Vatican watcher Marco Politi said the address was typical of a Pope who "uses language without excessive diplomatic cares" and whose aim was to "stimulate the international community" to intervene in modern-day persecutions.

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HEALTH

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.

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