Why Was the Pope Silent on the Armenian Genocide?

Apostolic Administrator of Armenian Catholics in Jordan and Jerusalem Speaks on Francis’ Recent Visit to Turkey

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Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey can be read from several points of view. Truly a “Pontifex,” the Holy Father is certainly seeking to build bridges with the moderate Muslim world. This was seen in the various gestures of fraternity and willingness to dialogue.

Four of the countries that the Pope has visited since his election are Muslim: Jordan, Palestine, Albania and Turkey. Yesterday, on his return trip, the Bishop of Rome mentioned to journalists the explicit hope he expressed to Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “It would be good if all Muslim leaders, political, religious and academic leaders, condemned terrorism clearly and say that that is not Islam.”

The Holy Father’s strategy is to contain the clash of civilizations and religions, inviting those who believe in the good and in coexistence to state their alignment.

An element that could be expected from the visit was, undoubtedly, that of asking Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. In regard to the reason for the Holy Father’s silence, ZENIT spoke with Armenian prelate, Msgr. Kevork Noradounguian (Dankaye), Procurator of the Armenian Catholic Church at the Holy See. He was recently appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Armenian Catholics in Jordan and Jerusalem.

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ZENIT: Turkey wanted the visit to have a distinctly political edge, receiving the Pope as Head of State. No doubt the nature of the host country conditioned very much the Holy Father’s address. How do you evaluate the visit on the whole?

Msgr. Noradounguian: The visit in itself was a great success. No doubt each one interprets it from his point of view. To some it might seem a legitimation and approval of a debated Head of State for his alleged involvement in the Arab Spring and for his support of some armed groups. For others, it will be a great disappointment because they expected from the Holy Father some allusion to Turkey as heir of the Ottoman Empire and its duty to acknowledge the genocides carried out at the beginning of the 20thcentury, especially the Armenian.

In his role as head of the smallest State in the world and as Successor of St. Peter, the Holy Father made the most difficult but correct choice. In world politics, everything is calculation and interests. The visits and meetings between the greats are the fruit of compromises, agreements and contracts reached before the meetings. When agreements are not reached, visits are not made. The Pope made the difficult choice of going first without putting any conditions to his trip. A meeting is the best remedy for all questions and problems.

I imagine that a choice was made which was that of meeting without the pretence of assuring himself the liberty of discourses or interests, or of registering ends in the other’s field for himself or for others.

It is another policy that is starting. Although it will be incomprehensible, it is good to begin to follow this way given that other ways are always less effective.

ZENIT: During the visit to the President for Religious Affairs at the “Diyanet” of Ankara, in the capacity of religious Heads, the Pope said: “We have the obligation to denounce all violations of human dignity and rights. Human life, gift of God the Creator, has a sacred character. Therefore, violence that seeks a religious justification merits the strongest condemnation.” Perhaps for Armenians this discourse sounds very close to so many others, especially in your relation with Turkey. How do you read the Pontiff’s silence regarding the acknowledgement of the “metz yeghern” (the Armenian Genocide)?

Msgr. Noradounguian: A sign in this regard would have given great pleasure to us, Armenians. It would also have been a recognition of so many martyrs. In my modest opinion, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, prefers gestures where dialogue for a cause is normally impeded. There were so many gestures. Discourses are made in dialogue and where there is willingness. A parenthesis on the genocide presupposes and requires another about other genocides of other communities. I go back to confirm that the Holy Father did not want to skip a trip and a meeting for a detail. Meanwhile, an acknowledgement of the genocide is the competence of other offices and petitions, which are the work of all parties.

ZENIT: Can we speak of an action that seeks to avoid the exacerbation of the situation of the Christian minority already tried under Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government of Muslim reformist inspiration? Or is there another reading?

Msgr. Noradounguian: Pope Francis did not lack courage. He addressed very hard subjects: terrorism, the arms trade, the dictatorship of the great powers. I think he would have no difficulty in addressing this argument also, but on the whole, the Holy Father gave a special edge to his trip, preferring a meeting and gestures to subjects that perhaps the other side is not yet ready to address for various reasons.

ZENIT: What do Armenians want from Turkey? Would they be content with a moral recognition or would they want something else, indemnification, etc.?

Msgr. Noradounguian: Recognition certainly, then just indemnification and then to see themselves again with brothers and sisters in the humanity with which, in the past, they made a stretch of road together. We do not ask for recognition and indemnification per se but precisely as premise for a reconciliation with our past and with our neighbor to embrace again so many brothers and sisters in humanity.  

Meanwhile, the lives of martyrs do not have a price and they merited the best part.

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Robert Cheaib

Docente di teologia presso varie università tra cui la Pontificia Università Gregoriana e l’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. Svolge attività di conferenziere su varie tematiche che riguardano principalmente la pratica della preghiera, la mistica, l’ateismo, il rapporto tra fede e cultura e la vita di coppia. Gestisce un sito di divulgazione teologica www.theologhia.com. Tra le sue opere recenti: Un Dio umano. Primi passi nella fede cristiana (Edizioni san Paolo 2013); Alla presenza di Dio. Per una spiritualità incarnata (Il pozzo di Giacobbe 2015); Rahamim. Nelle viscere di Dio. Briciole di una teologia della misericordia (Tau Editrice 2015); Il gioco dell'amore. 10 passi verso la felicità di coppia (Tau Editrice 2016); Oltre la morte di Dio. La fede alla prova del dubbio (San Paolo 2017).

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