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Turkey recalls Vatican envoy after Pope describes killing of Armenians as ‘genocide’

Pope Francis is greeted by the head of Armenia's Orthodox Church Karekin II at St Peter's Basilica on Sunday (PA)

Turkey has recalled its envoy to the Vatican after Pope Francis called the mass murder of Armenians under Ottoman rule during World War One a “genocide”.

Speaking at a Mass at St Peter’s Basilica on Divine Mercy Sunday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian massacres, Francis said: “A century has passed since that horrific massacre which was a true martyrdom of your people, in which many innocent people died as confessors and martyrs for the name of Christ.

“Even today, there is not an Armenian family untouched by the loss of loved ones due to that tragedy: it truly was ‘Metz Yeghern’, the ‘Great Evil’, as it is known by Armenians.”

Quoting a 2001 declaration by St John Paul II and the head of the Armenian Church, the Pope continued: “This faith… accompanied and sustained your people during the tragic experience one hundred years ago ‘in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century’.”

The Pope also said he felt a “great closeness to the Armenian people” and urged the international community to recognise the genocide.

“It is the responsibility not only of the Armenian people and the universal Church to recall all that has taken place, but of the entire human family, so that the warnings from this tragedy will protect us from falling into a similar horror, which offends against God and human dignity,” he said.

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian said Pope Francis had “delivered a powerful message to the international community”.

“The words of the leader of a Church with one billion followers cannot but have a strong impact,” he told The Associated Press.

Armenia recognises April 24 1915 as the start of a genocide which resulted, according to many historians, in the deaths of around 1.5 million people. However, Turkey denies a genocide took place and claims the dead were killed during a civil war.

Turkey has now recalled its ambassador to the Holy See for “consultations” and has contacted the Apostolic Nuncio in Ankara, Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, to express its disappointment, according to Vatican Radio.

Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affair Mevlut Cavusoglu also responded to Pope Francis’s comments on Twitter, claiming the Pontiff was “out of touch” with “historical facts”.

Pope Francis was joined at the service in St Peter’s Basilica on Sunday by the Catholicos Karekin II and Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He concelebrated Mass with Patriarch Catholicos Nerses Bedros XIX.