Pope calls Armenian slaughter '1st genocide of 20th century'

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Pope calls Armenian slaughter '1st genocide of 20th century'
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his general audience at St Peter's square on June 17, 2015 at the Vatican. (Photo credit ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
The front of the popemobile is covered by scout's scarves as Pope Francis greets the crowd during an audience to the Italian Catholics Scouts (Agesci) at St Peter's square on June 13, 2015 at the Vatican. (Photo credit FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - APRIL 05: Pope Francis attends the Easter Mass at St Peter's Square on April 5, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday morning, despite the cold and the rain, to take part in Solemn Mass with Pope Francis in celebration of Easter. Following the Liturgy, the Holy Father gave the traditional Blessing Urbi et Orbi- to the City ,of Rome, and to the World. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - APRIL 05: A general view during the Easter Mass on April 5, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday morning, despite the cold and the rain, to take part in Solemn Mass with Pope Francis in celebration of Easter. Following the Liturgy, the Holy Father gave the traditional 'Blessing Urbi et Orbi'- to the City ,of Rome, and to the World. (Photo by Giulio Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - APRIL 05: Pope Francis attends the Easter Mass on April 5, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday morning, despite the cold and the rain, to take part in Solemn Mass with Pope Francis in celebration of Easter. Following the Liturgy, the Holy Father gave the traditional 'Blessing Urbi et Orbi'- to the City ,of Rome, and to the World. (Photo by Giulio Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - APRIL 05: Pope Francis greets the faithful following the Easter Mass on April 5, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday morning, despite the cold and the rain, to take part in Solemn Mass with Pope Francis in celebration of Easter. Following the Liturgy, the Holy Father gave the traditional 'Blessing Urbi et Orbi'- to the City ,of Rome, and to the World. (Photo by Giulio Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN, APRIL 5: Worshippers gather at St. Peter's Square as Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Mass in Vatican City on April 5, 2015. Thousands of worshippers from different countries attend the Easter Mass despite the heavy rain. (Photo by Baris Seckin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - APRIL 05: Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he delivers his 'Urbi et Orbi' blessing message from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica at the end of the Easter Mass on April 5, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday morning, despite the cold and the rain, to take part in Solemn Mass with Pope Francis in celebration of Easter. Following the Liturgy, the Holy Father gave the traditional 'Blessing Urbi et Orbi'- to the City ,of Rome, and to the World. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis kisses the ampulla containing the blood of San Gennaro (Saint Januarius, patron of Naples) next to cardinal Crescenzio Sepe (L), archbishop of Naples at the Duomo as part of his pastoral visit on March 21, 2015 in Naples. Hundreds of thousands of people waving Vatican flags greeted Pope Francis as he headed deep into mafia territory, visiting jailbirds and the poor in Naples amid heightened security. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 30: Pope Francis attends an audience with President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz at the Apostolic Palace on October 30, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis will speak before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on November 25th, during its plenary assembly. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) wears a plastic poncho as he waves to well wishers after a mass in Tacloban on January 17, 2015. Pope Francis will spend an emotional day in the Philippines on January 17 with survivors of a catastrophic super typhoon that claimed thousands of lives, highlighting his concern over climate change. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 02: Pope Francis leads Mass with members of the institutes of Consecrated Life at St. Peter's Basilica on February 2, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pontiff further urged the bishops to pay special attention to vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, saying that they need 'adequate training' throughout their ministry. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
METRO MANILA, PHILIPPINES - 2015/01/18: Pope Francis is in his 5-day trip to the Philippines for the first time from January 15 to 19. The pontiff's trip will be highlighted by visits to Haiyan-struck areas in the Visayas region, South of Manila. (Photo by John Jerome E. Ganzon/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Pope Francis smiles in front of a videocamera as he take part in a video conference to mark the end of the IV Scholas Occurrentes World Educational Congress, at the Vatican, on February 5, 2015. The 'Scholas Occurrentes' organization is an international project based in Argentina that brings together schools and educational networks from different cultures and beliefs. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JANUARY 28: Pope Francis smiles as he receives from a newly married couple a figurine featuring himself, during his audience at the Paul VI Hall on January 28, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Speaking during the weekly General Audience, the Pope called on fathers to be present in the lives of their children pointing out that the absence of a 'father figure' can have grave consequences. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis holds a St. Therese's Icon during a press conference aboard a plane during his trip to the Philippines on January 15, 2015. Pope Francis arrived in the Philippines on January 15 for a five-day trip in the Catholic Church's passionate and chaotic Asian heartland that is tipped to attract a world-record papal crowd. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - NOVEMBER 26: Pope Francis attends his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on November 26, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. During today's General Audience Pope Francis told pilgrims the Church is on a continuing journey towards heaven. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 02: Pope Francis kisses a young kid as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for his weekly audience on October 2, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. During the audience the Pontiff said the Church is not without sin because it is made up of sinners. Priests, sisters, bishops, cardinals and even Popes are sinners. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis speaks during the audience to the Vatican employees, on December 22, 2014 in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MAY 26: (ISRAEL OUT) Pope Francis prays by the Western Wall on May 26, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Pope Francis arrived in Israel on Sunday afternoon, a day after landing in the Middle East for his first visit to the Holy Land. During his visit to the West Bank the Pontiff addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as 'unacceptable' and urged both sides to find courage in seeking a peaceful solution. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Pope Francis kisses a boy as he arrives for his general audience in St Peter's Square at the Vatican on February 26, 2014. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis loses his 'papalina' cup as he catches a baseball ball thrown by a faithful at the end of his weekly audience at St. Peter's Square on September 24, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. During his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis reflected on his Apostolic Voyage to Albania. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis smiles as he wear a military Alpine hat upon his arrival at St.Peter's square for the weekly general audience on March 5, 2014. The pontiff today has defended the Catholic Church's record on tackling the sexual abuse of children by priests, saying 'no-one else has done more' to root out paedophilia. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 17: Pope Francis blows out the candles on his birthday cake during his general audience at St Peter's square on December 17, 2014 at the Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Evren Atalay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Pope Francis caresses a child during the audience to the Vatican employees, on December 22, 2014 in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis gestures in St.Peter's square at Vatican during his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014. Pope Francis has defended the Catholic Church's record on tackling the sexual abuse of children by priests, saying 'no-one else has done more' to root out paedophilia. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis exchanges gifts with the Prime Minister of Romania Victor Ponta (R) as his wife and European Parliament Member Daciana Sarbu (L) looks on during a private audience in the pontiff's studio at the Vatican on March 1, 2014. AFP PHOTO / POOL / ALESSANDRA TARANTINO (Photo credit should read ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - APRIL 23: Pope Francis drinks mate as he holds his weekly audience on April 23, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pilgrims have started to arrive in St. Peter's Square for the Canonization ceremony for Pope John XXIII and John Paul II, which will take place on Sunday 27th. (Photo by Giulio Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis greets a child dressed up as a pope as he arrives for his general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on February 26, 2014. AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read OSSERVATORE ROMANO/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 21: Pope Francis greets cardinals as he arrives at the Synod Hall for the morning session of Extraordinary Consistory on the themes of Family on February 21, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Francis will create 19 new cardinals during his first consistory on February 22. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis salutes the crowd as he arrives for his general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on February 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis is welcomed by faithfuls while arriving for a visit to the parish of San Tommaso on the outskirts of Rome on February 16, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - APRIL 05: Pope Francis attends the Easter Mass on April 5, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday morning, despite the cold and the rain, to take part in Solemn Mass with Pope Francis in celebration of Easter. Following the Liturgy, the Holy Father gave the traditional 'Blessing Urbi et Orbi'- to the City ,of Rome, and to the World. (Photo by Giulio Origlia/Getty Images)
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VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis on Sunday honored the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians by calling it "the first genocide of the 20th century" and urging the international community to recognize it as such, a politically explosive declaration that will certainly anger Turkey.

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

"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.

In a subsequent message directed to all Armenians, Francis called on all heads of state and international organizations to recognize the truth of what transpired and oppose such crimes "without ceding to ambiguity or compromise."

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 scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turkey, however, refuses to call it a genocide and has insisted that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest. It has fiercely lobbied to prevent countries, including the Holy See, from officially recognizing the Armenian massacre as genocide.

Turkey's embassy to the Holy See canceled a planned news conference for Sunday, presumably after learning that the pope would utter the word "genocide" over its objections. Requests for comment went unanswered and there was no official word Sunday from the government in Ankara.

Francis' words had immediate effect in St. Peters, bolstering the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Aram I, to thank Francis for his clear condemnation and recall that "genocide" is a crime against humanity that requires reparation.

"International law spells out clearly that condemnation, recognition and reparation of a genocide are closely interconnected," Aram said in English at the end of the Mass to applause from the pews.

Speaking as if he were at a political rally, Aram said the Armenian cause is a cause of justice, and that justice is a gift of God. "Therefore, the violation of justice is a sin against God," he said.

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

The Holy See, too, places great importance in its relationship with the moderate Muslim nation, especially as it demands Muslim leaders condemn the slaughter of Christians by Muslim extremists in neighboring Iraq and Syria.

But Francis' willingness to rile Ankara with his words showed once again that he has few qualms about taking diplomatic risks for issues close to his heart. He took a similar risk by inviting the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to pray together for peace at the Vatican - a summit that was followed by the outbreak of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Francis is not the first pope to call the massacre a genocide. In his remarks, Francis cited a 2001 declaration signed by St. John Paul II and the Armenian church leader, Karenkin II, which said the deaths were considered "the first genocide of the 20th century."

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, whose ties with Turkey and the Muslim world were initially strained, avoided using the "g-word" during his pontificate.

The context of Francis' pronunciation was significant: He uttered the words during an Armenian rite Mass in St. Peter's Basilica marking the 100th anniversary of the slaughter, alongside the Armenian Catholic patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, Armenian Christian church leaders and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who sat in a place of honor in the basilica.

While Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was particularly close to the Armenian community and he referred to the Armenian "genocide" on several occasions.

The definition of genocide has long been contentious. The United Nations in 1948 defined genocide as killing and other acts intended to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, but many dispute which mass killings should be called genocide.

In his remarks Sunday, Francis said the Armenian slaughter was the first of three "massive and unprecedented" genocides last century that was followed by the Holocaust and Stalinism. He said other mass killings had followed, including in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia.

"It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today too there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by," he said.

Francis has frequently denounced the "complicit silence" of the world community in the face of the modern-day slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities by Islamic extremists.

During Sunday's Mass, Francis also honored the Armenian community at the start of the Mass by pronouncing a 10th-century Armenian mystic, St. Gregory of Narek, a doctor of the church. Only 35 people have been given the title, which is reserved for those whose writings have greatly served the universal church.

The Mass was rich in traditional Armenian music, with haunting hymns used at key points. Children dressed in traditional costumes presented the gifts at the altar, which was bathed in a cloud of incense.

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