UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rejected the Pope’s categorization of the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I as genocide.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I was not genocide, but rather “atrocity crimes.” The categorization was in response to a statement made earlier by the Pope, who called it “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
April 24, 2015, marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide. On that date, the Ottoman Empire rounded up 250 Armenian leaders and intellectuals whom they accused of supporting the Russian enemy in World War I. The Ottomans then executed Armenian men of military age and sent the elderly, women and children on death marches into the Syrian desert. Scholars estimate that 1-1.5 million Armenians died.
The term “genocide” was coined in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish refugee from Poland, specifically to describe the experience of the Armenians.
In recognition of the approaching anniversary, Pope Francis held a special mass in memory of the victims, during which he noted the “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” of the past century. “The first, which is widely considered the first genocide of the 20th century, struck your own Armenian people,” he said. “Bishops and priests, religious women and men, the elderly and even defenseless children and the infirm were murdered.”
The other two tragedies were the Holocaust and the Stalinist massacres, he said. Israel will commemorate the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah, which begins Wednesday night.
Turkey responded to the Pope’s statement by recalling its ambassador to the Vatican for consultations. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that “to read these sorrows in a one-sided way is inappropriate for the pope and the authority that he holds,” while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described it as “far from the legal and historical reality.”
The UN contradicted the pope’s description of the mass killings as genocide. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that Ban took note of the pope’s comments but is aware of “the sensitivities related to the characterization of what happened.” Dujarric does not envision a fact-finding inquiry into the genocide, saying, “There’ve been discussions with the countries concerned, and communities concerned and I think it’s important that those discussions continue.”
“The UN has sought to strengthen the capacity of the international community to prevent such atrocity crimes from ever occurring,” he added.
The official position of the State of Israel is to neither recognize nor deny the Armenian genocide in light of sensitive relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. This decision has generated considerable debate in Israel, including condemnation by President Reuven Rivlin.