ANKARA – Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Pope Francis for describing the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as “genocide,” a term rejected by Ankara, over a live-feed aired on NTV television channel.
During a meeting of the Turkish Exporters Assembly on Tuesday, Erdogan rebuffed, “I want to warn the Pope to not repeat this mistake and to condemn him.”
“Whenever politicians, religious functionaries assume the duties of historians, then delirium comes out, not fact,” the president said.
He equally reminded listeners that he expressed his condolences last year for the Armenian tragedy, but argued that the same stance needs to be taken regarding the Crimean Tatars, ethnic Turks, or the Circassians in the North Caucasus.
“While Armenians were being killed in our country, in the same way sons of the Ottoman Empire were being killed by Armenians in other countries.”
The Turkish president recalled the Pope’s visit to Turkey last November, and said that he had seen “a different politician,” and condemned the Pope’s comments which, he posited, reflect the “mentality” that led to the slaughter of millions of people throughout history, in reference to the Crusades.
Erdogan vowed to not let historical events taken out of context be used as propaganda against Turkey, and reiterated his call for historians to address the issue.
“We are ready to open our archives to their full extent,” Erdogan said, calling on Armenians to do the same.
The controversy began on Sunday following the Pope’s speech, delivered 10 days before the April 24 centenary commemoration of the 1915 Armenian genocide, just two months before Turkey’s general elections.
A majority of historians estimate that from 1915 to 1923, 1.5 million Armenians were killed en masse by Ottoman forces, while another half-million were displaced.
Regardless, Turkey does not acknowledge these events as “genocide” but rather as inescapable “unfortunate events” between Ottoman forces and pro-Russian Armenian militias during World War I.