Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A date with international recognition

Described as a historic event, Pope Francis served a Holy Mass in memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide. Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian watched the service closely

Al-Ahram Weekly

During its plenary session on Wednesday the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the centennial of the Armenian Genocide by majority. The resolution was supported by all political groups in the European Parliament. Pope Francis’ message of reconciliation and peace was also included in the final version of the resolution which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned. Erdogan warned the pope not to repeat the “mistake” of describing the mass killings of Ottoman Armenians as “genocide”.

Before the resolution passed, Erdogan said that regardless of the outcome, Turkey will not take it seriously and that the EP's decision will go “in one ear and out the other”, adding that it was not possible for Turkey to accept responsibility for such a crime. Erdogan also threatened to deport the roughly 100,000 Armenian nationals living and working in Turkey.

Last Sunday, Armenians around the world, across different time zones, anxiously watched a previously announced Holy Mass service held in the Vatican City’s St Peter’s Basilica. The Mass was dedicated to the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide committed by Ottoman Turks a century ago. Pope Francis of the Catholic Church born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 79 delivered a message in the presence of the Republic of Armenia’s President Serge Sarkissian, All Armenians Catholicos Karekin II of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Holy See of Cilicia, Armenian Catholics Patriarch Beatitude Nersess Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Cilicia, Bishop Ashod Mnatsaganian Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Egypt, Bishop Krikor-Okosdinos Coussa of the Armenian Catholics in Egypt, other Armenian church leaders of the Diaspora as well as intellectuals and parliamentarians from Armenia.

In his message, Pope Francis addressed the faithful as “Armenian brothers and sisters”, expressing his close feelings to the Armenian people and his wish to unite spiritually the prayers that rise up from the hearts of the families in different Armenian communities. Pope Francis used the word “genocide” referring to the mass killings of the Armenians in 1915. “In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies,” the Pope said, “the first, which is widely considered the first genocide of the 20th century, struck your own Armenian people,” referencing a 2001 declaration by Pope John Paul II and head of the Armenian Church Karekin II.

Despite of the Pope’s reference to a 15-year-old declaration, Turkey, still in a state of denial, has reacted with anger, expressed its disappointment and sadness, and summoned Mehmet Pacaci, its ambassador to the Vatican, for an explanation. It later recalled its Ambassador Aydın Adnan Sezgin from Rome. Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu did not accept the Pope’s statement, saying, “It is far from the legal and historical reality.” Cavusoglu insisted that religious authorities should not incite resentment and hatred with baseless allegations, especially that the mass killings were not openly driven by religious motives. Disagreeing, Bishop Ashod Mnatsaganian of Egypt told Al-Ahram Weekly in a telephone conversation from the Vatican, “Pope Francis is a respectful churchman who spreads messages of peace and love to the world. As a clergyman he couldn’t stay silent and not condemn slaughtering committed with hatred. A genocide that was denounced with silence for a hundred years and still is unaccepted by Turkey.” Mnatsaganian explained that the Pope did not incite resentment and hatred as Foreign Minister Cavusoglu stated. “He called on nations to live in peace and condemn every harm that’s directed to humanity.”

According to Harut Sassounian, writer and publisher of The California Courier, “The only person who was clueless about the Pope’s true intentions was Pacaci, who had bragged to the Turkish press two weeks ago that he had convinced the Pope to cancel his visit to Yerevan on 24 April, not to celebrate Mass at the Vatican on that day and eliminate the words ‘Armenian Genocide’ from the Pope’s address during the 12 April Mass,” for which the Turkish and Azerbaijani media reported Ambassador Pacaci’s contentions as a major victory for Turkish diplomacy and a devastating defeat for Armenians. “Ambassador Pacaci’s false claims were simply intended to impress his superiors in Ankara about his ‘good work’,” Sassounian noted in his weekly column.

Armenian Church Catholicos Karekin II and Aram I, too, addressed the faithful, both in Armenian language. In his powerful speech, Aram I Catholicos expressed his gratitude to Pope Francis for sharing the Armenian people’s sorrow. Aram I suddenly switched the language of his speech to English, determined to let each and every word he said about the genocide reach the faithful people’s minds and souls. “Not only we lost 1.5 million Armenians, but thousands of monasteries, churches, community centres, humanitarian and social institutions, objects of spiritual and cultural immense value were destroyed, lost or confiscated. According to international law, genocide is a crime against humanity and international law spells out clearly that condemnation, recognition and reparation of genocide are closely interconnected. The Armenian cause is a cause of justice and as we well know, justice is not human made, it’s a gift of God, therefore the violation of justice is a sin against God.” Aram I’s speech was interrupted with applause several times.

Francis in his message reminded the Armenian faithful of Saint John Paul II’s saying: “Your history of suffering and martyrdom is a precious pearl, of which the Universal Church is proud. Faith in Christ, man’s redeemer, infused you with an admirable courage on your path, so often like that of the Cross, on which you have advanced with determination, intent on preserving your identity as a people and as believers.”

During the Mass, Pope Francis proclaimed 10th century monk Saint Gregory of Nareg as a Doctor of the Church. The title has been given to only 35 other figures. Gregory of Nareg Krikor Naregatsi in Armenian language was an Armenian monk, poet, mystical philosopher and theologian who is a saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Naregatsi was born circa 950. He was recognised as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church too, and Pope John Paul II referred to Naregatsi in several addresses. He was the author of mystical interpretation, the “Song of Songs” and numerous poetic writings. His Book of Prayers, also known as the “Book of Lamentations”, is a long mystical poem in 95 sections written circa 977, and has been translated into several languages. The prayer book, the work of his early years, remains one of the definitive pieces of Armenian literature. Naregatsi’s prayers have long been recognised as gems of Christian literature and it was his hope that the “Book of Lamentations” would serve as a guide to prayer by people of all sectors around the world.

“Those two great mentionings by Pope Francis considering the 1915 mass killings a ‘genocide’ and proclaiming our Saint Gregory of Nareg Doctor of the Church granted me a deep spiritual satisfaction. The Pope’s solidarity with our nation will give a new hope and strength to our people who continuously are struggling for justice,” Bishop Mnatsaganian told the Weekly.

Children dressed in Armenian national costume took the offerings of the Holy Mass (bread and wine) to the Holy Altar of the church, and the sound of Armenian duduk was heard for the first time inside St Peter’s Basilica. Duduk is an ancient woodwind flute made of apricot wood. It was also noticeable that some faithful intellectuals and church choir members were wearing scarves with the forget-me-not flower printed on them, the official emblem of the worldwide observance of the centennial year of the genocide.

Will Pope Francis’ powerful remarks set the stage for Obama to recognise the Armenian Genocide? During his presidential campaign in 2008, Obama made a promise to the large Armenian communities in different states of the United States: “As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution and as president I will recognise the Armenian Genocide.” He failed to follow through when he became president. At least so far.

The Republic of Armenia is in build up to the formal commemoration of the Armenian Genocide centennial next week.

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