Yerevan, Armenia | AFP |
Pope Francis on Saturday issued a rallying cry to remember the past after visiting the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan, on day two of a trip likely to stir tensions with Turkey.
“A century has just passed from the ‘Great Evil’ unleashed upon you. This immense and senseless slaughter this tragic mystery of iniquity that your people experienced in the flesh, remains impressed in our memory and burns in our hearts,” he said during evening prayers in the Armenian capital.
“Not to forget them is not only right, it is a duty. May they be a perennial warning lest the world fall back into the maelstrom of similar horrors!”
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He earlier laid a wreath alongside President Serzh Sarkisian at the Tsitsernakaberd memorial site where 12 giant stars represent the regions where Armenians say Ottoman forces killed some 1.5 million of their people between 1915 to 1917.
“I pray here, with pain in my heart, that such tragedies will not happen again, that humanity does not forget and knows how to overcome evil with good,” Francis wrote in large golden book of commemoration.
“May God protect the memory of the Armenian people! Memory cannot be stifled or forgotten! Memory is a source of peace and future!”
Beginning his three-day visit on Friday, the pope had denounced the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman forces as “genocide”, risking Turkey’s ire.
‘The memory of a people’
“Sadly this tragedy, this genocide, was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century,” he said earlier at the presidential palace in Yerevan.
When Francis last used the term in the Vatican in 2015, on the centenary of the killings, Ankara angrily recalled its envoy from the Holy See for nearly a year.
But during evening prayers, Francis sought to strike a conciliatory tone, calling for peace in the region.
“Cherish the great wisdom of your elders and strive to be peacemakers: not content with the status quo, but actively engaged in building the culture of encounter and reconciliation,” he said, addressing his remarks to young people.
“May God bless your future and grant that the people of Armenia and Turkey take up again the path of reconciliation, and may peace also spring forth in Nagorny Karabakh.”
Armenians have long sought international recognition for the World War I killings as genocide.
Turkey — the Ottoman Empire’s successor state — argues that it was a collective tragedy in which both Turks and Armenians died.
Speaking earlier in the day to some 20,000 people in the main square of Armenia’s second-largest city of Gyumri — the spiritual centre of the country’s Roman Catholic community — Francis reiterated the need to maintain the collective memory of the Armenian people.
“Peoples, like individuals, have a memory. Your own people’s memory is ancient and precious,” the pontiff said.
Armenia is considered the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion in the early 4th century.
According to the 2011 census, some 96 percent of the ex-Soviet country’s population of some three million belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The country’s Christian minorities include 14,000 Roman Catholics and some 8,000 Orthodox Christians, mainly Russians, Greeks, Georgians, and Ukrainians.