Pope Francis has “with pain in my heart” paid tribute to the 1.5 million Armenians killed in 1915 at a memorial event in Yerevan on Saturday saying “never again” should such tragedies occur.
This comes a day after the Pope used the term ‘genocide’ again to describe the mass killings of Armenians.
Last year, Pope Francis angered Turkey by using the term ‘genocide’ in reference to the 1915 killings.
But in an address at the Armenian presidential palace in Yerevan on Friday, Pope Francis departed from his prepared text and condemned “that tragedy, that genocide” which he said was “the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century”.
Having initially used the Armenian term ‘Metz Yeghern’ or the ‘Great Evil’, the Pontiff said the murder of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire was “made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples”.
Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One but disputes the 1.5 million casualty figure put out by Armenia.
It estimates there were 300,000 casualties and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide, adding that many Muslim Turks also perished at the time.
Ankara recalled its ambassador to the Vatican last year after the Pope used the term ‘genocide’ to describe the killings of the Armenians.
There has been no reaction yet from Turkey over the Pope’s new comments on Friday.
At Saturday’s memorial event, Pope Francis wrote in a guest book at the Tzitzernakaberd Genocide Memorial and Museum thus: “Here I pray, with pain in my heart, so that never again will there be tragedies like this, so that humanity does not forget and knows how to overcome evil with good.”
Armenia’s president, Serzh Sargsyan and leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church joined Pope Francis for the prayer service on Saturday.
Francis is the second leader of the Roman Catholic church to visit Armenia since it became an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to visit in 2001.