ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s top cleric on Monday described comments by Pope Francis that the 1915 mass killing of Armenians was genocide as immoral and said the Vatican should look to its own history before leveling accusations of casting stones.
Francis this month became the first head of the Roman Catholic church to publicly call the killing of as many as 1.5 million Armenians “genocide”, prompting a row with Turkey, which summoned the Vatican’s envoy and recalled its own.
“The Vatican will come out as the biggest loser if we are all giving account for past sufferings and pain caused,” Mehmet Gormez, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, the highest religious authority in largely Muslim Turkey, told Reuters in an interview.
“Is the current situation of millions of Syrian refugees much less cause for concern to the Vatican than what happened during the Armenian deportation?” he said, referring to refugees from Syria’s civil war being sheltered in Turkey.
“I find the Pope’s statement immoral, and can’t reconcile it with basic Christian values.”
The 100th anniversary on Friday of the World War One massacre by Ottoman Turkish forces has stirred controversy, with Germany set to join France, the European parliament and Francis in using the term “genocide”.
Turkey denies that the killings, at a time when Turkish troops were fighting Russian forces, constituted genocide. It says there was no organized campaign to wipe out Armenians and no evidence of any such orders from the Ottoman authorities.
Gormez’s office was created in Turkey - a Sunni Muslim nation with a secular constitution - in 1924 to replace the Ottoman Sheikh al-Islam, the mufti with authority to confirm new sultans, who also served as chief legal adviser.
Gormez said Europe’s weak economy and its difficulties integrating immigrants were the root causes of rising Islamophobia on the continent.
“Islamophobia should be considered a crime against humanity, just like anti-Semitism,” he said.
Gormez also said violence carried out by groups such as Islamic State, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and al Qaeda was a consequence of ignorance and poverty, as well as of the exploitation of the Middle East and Africa for two centuries.
He called on Islamic scholars and clerics to be self-critical about how they were raising new generations.
“Islam was a religion creating civilization throughout history. When educating Muslim children, clerics should reflect on the comparison between that and today’s Koranic interpretations that incite violence,” he said.
Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Nick Tattersall