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Pope defends Armenia ‘genocide’ comment, says no offense meant

Turkey accused Francis of adopting a ‘Crusades’-like mentality by terming the 1915 killings a ‘genocide’ during his three-day visit to Armenia

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Pope Francis has defended using the term “genocide” to describe the Ottoman-era slaughter of Armenians, saying Sunday that’s how he has always referred to the massacre, he didn’t mean anything offensive by it and that it would have been “very strange” to have avoided it.

Turkey accused Francis of adopting a “Crusades”-like mentality by terming the 1915 killings a “genocide” during his three-day visit to Armenia — a charge the Vatican strongly dismissed.

Asked Sunday en route home from Armenia why he decided to add “genocide” into his prepared remarks, Francis said it was simply the term that he had always used in Argentina, where he was close to the Armenian community.

“When we spoke of the Armenian extermination, the word we used was ‘genocide.’ I didn’t know any other,” he said. Only after arriving in Rome as pope did he learn of other phrases — the “Great Evil” or the “terrible tragedy” — and that “genocide” carried legal weight given Armenian claims for restitution.

But Francis said he decided to use the word on Friday in his welcome speech at the Armenian presidential palace since he had said it before, St. John Paul II had said it before, and “it would have seemed very strange to not say it in Armenia.”

He added: “I have never said it with an offensive spirit, but objectively.”