ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he condemned Pope Francis on Tuesday for comments that the 1915 mass killing of Armenians was genocide and warned him not to make such a statement again.
The pope became the first head of the Roman Catholic church to publicly call the killing of as many as 1.5 million Armenians “genocide” on Sunday, prompting a diplomatic row with Turkey, which summoned the Vatican’s envoy and recalled its own.
Muslim Turkey agrees Christian Armenians were killed in clashes with Ottoman soldiers that began on April 15, 1915, when Armenians lived in the empire ruled by Istanbul, but denies hundreds of thousands were killed and that this amounted to genocide.
“We will not allow historical incidents to be taken out of their genuine context and be used as a tool to campaign against our country,” Erdogan said in a speech to a business group.
“I condemn the pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again.”
While other Turkish politicians, and now Erdogan, have lashed out at the pope, some ordinary Turks have dismissed the row as empty politics and voiced a desire to leave history be.
Erdogan’s comments are likely to put a focus on whether the United States, a traditional ally of NATO-member Turkey, will eventually use the term “genocide” for the mass killings.
Unlike almost two dozen European and South American states that use the term, Washington avoids it and has warned legislators that Ankara could cut off military cooperation if they voted to adopt it.
Pope Francis appeared to refer to his use of the term “genocide” on Monday, saying in a sermon that “today the Church’s message is one of the path of frankness, the path of Christian courage”.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by David Dolan and Louise Ireland