Pope Francis’ visit to Armenia this summer comes at a poignant time in the country’s history.
The Holy Father’s June 24-26 visit comes just after the close of the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and during the Year of Mercy, a significance not lost on the Armenian people, said Mikayel Minasyan, Armenian Ambassador to the Holy See.
The Armenian people have learned to be strong because of their history, Minasyan said, referring to the genocide that occurred at the hands of the Ottoman empire during and after World War I and which left as many as 1.5 million Armenians dead.
“It’s strong to remember their own history, it’s strong to understand their own history, it’s strong to accept their own history,” he said of his people.
The centenary anniversary has been a time to recognize the healing and progress that has been made, he added.
“(T)he Armenians made the whole world see what it is to overcome an injustice. They gave the possibility to the world to understand what a genocide is, what the denial of a genocide is. Let’s not forget that the term ‘genocide’ was created above all based on the study of the Armenian genocide.”
The ambassador also said the year has been a time to recognize everyone who has supported the Armenians and raised awareness of the genocide, including Pope Francis, who has recognized the genocide as religiously motivated.
During Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday on April 12, 2015, Pope Francis referred to the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks starting in 1915, as a genocide, a term used in a common declaration signed by both Saint John Paul II and Supreme Armenian Patriarch Karekin II in 2001. That day, Francis offered the Mass for faithful of the Armenian rite in commemoration of the centenary of the “Metz Yeghern,” or Armenian “martyrdom,” which is historically held to have started April 24, 1915.
“We are also very grateful, very grateful to the people from the smallest to the greatest, from Pope Francis, who did something historic celebrating Mass for the Armenian martyrs April 12...calling things as they are, creating another term, ‘ecumenism of blood.’ An ecumenism founded on blood, because the Armenians were exterminated also because they were Christians.”
“Certainly Pope Francis made one of the most fundamental steps in celebrating this Mass in St. Peter’s inviting the hierarchy of the Apostolic Armenian Church and of the Armenian Catholic Church, and proclaiming St. Gregory of Narek as a doctor of the Universal Church,” he added.
The Pope has kept strong ties with the Armenian community since his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. A large portion of Armenians immigrated to Argentina following the deportations and killings of World War I, and today the country has one of the largest populations of Armenians in the world.
The Pope’s visit this summer includes a stop at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex, which was built in memorial of those who perished in the genocide, as well as time for ecumenical meetings with leaders of all faiths, and prayers for peace, according to the schedule released by the Vatican.
The Armenian people are “full of joy” that Pope Francis is coming, the ambassador said, and are looking forward to his visit, since he has been so supportive of the Armenian people.
“...the Armenian people are waiting with a great excitement to manifest their own remembrance. Pope Francis is going to Armenia to fulfill this visit in full respect and love for the Armenian people and for their history. And also the recognition of what the Armenian Republic represents now in that region,” he said.
“We await him, everyone is waiting for him. Certainly it will be a very significant moment, also because it’s a very busy trip. The fact that His Holiness goes to Armenia in the Year of Mercy is also another fact that we appreciate a lot.”
The Holy Father’s recognition and remembrance of the Armenian genocide is especially meaningful amid ongoing denials of the event or denial of responsibility for the event on the part of some Turkish politicians and other political leaders, Minasyan noted.
“We are not closing this year, turning a page. We are opening another book and this new book is titled ‘The fight against denialism,’ and it is yet to be seen.”
While most people no longer deny the Armenian genocide, “the politicians do,” Minasyan said. “In private they say yes, but in public, for political reasons, they deny it. Political denial is the most hideous denial that there is.”
It is also important for people to remember the Armenian genocide because of what it has meant for the Middle East, Minasyan said.
“Now we see that in the past 100 years the quantity, speaking in percentages, of Christians is drastically diminishing. In the past five years it has been something truly dramatic. I don’t want to put it into a box, but all of it started with the Armenian genocide.”