(AA) – A former Turkish envoy to the Vatican has told The Anadolu Agency that he is “concerned” about Ankara’s relations with the Holy See after Pope Francis’ Armenian “genocide” remarks.
Kenan Gursoy described the Pope’s statement, made during Sunday’s Mass at the St. Peter’s Basilica, as “a disappointment.”
During the religious service, which was attended by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, Pope Francis said the deaths of Armenian people in 1915 were widely regarded as the “first genocide” of the 20th century.
The Argentinian pontiff also included the WWI deaths with other 20th century mass killings which took place in Rwanda, Cambodia, Burundi and Bosnia.
His comments led to Ankara recalling its ambassador from the Vatican.
Gursoy, who served as Turkey’s ambassador to the Vatican between 2009 and 2014 said the Holy See “did not understand Turkey’s sensitivity on the 1915 incidents,” adding: “The Pope acts like there is only one truth about the 1915 incidents. I am worried about the future of Turkey-Vatican relations.”
Although Pope Francis prayed for the “path of reconciliation”, Gursoy thinks “it is not possible to build reconciliation by supporting one side and offending the other side.”
The diplomatic spat came soon after April 11, which marked the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Vatican.
“I think Turkey is offended; the Turkish people are offended. He (Pope Francis) needs to feel that. The Turkish Republic is not an ordinary state. Turkey has a rooted past, has rooted traditions. It cannot be underestimated, nor can its sensitivities,” Gursoy added.
– 1915 incidents
The 1915 events took place during World War I when a portion of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman Empire sided with the invading Russians and revolted against the empire.
The Ottoman Empire relocated Armenians in eastern Anatolia following the revolts and there were Armenian casualties during the relocation process.
Armenia has demanded an apology and compensation, while Turkey has officially refuted Armenian allegations over the incidents saying that, although Armenians died during the relocations, many Turks also lost their lives in attacks carried out by Armenian gangs in Anatolia.
The Turkish government has repeatedly called on historians to study Ottoman archives pertaining to the era to uncover what actually happened.
The debate on “genocide” and the differing opinions between the present-day Turkish government and the Armenian diaspora, along with the current administration in Yerevan, still generates political tension between Turks and Armenians.
Turkey’s official position against allegations of “genocide” is that it acknowledges the past experiences were a great tragedy and that both parties suffered heavy casualties, including hundreds of Muslim Turks.
Ankara agrees that there were Armenian casualties during World War I, but says that it is impossible to define these incidents as “genocide.”
In 2014, then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his condolences for the first time to all Ottoman citizens who lost their lives in the events of 1915.
“May Armenians who lost their lives in the events in the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren,” Erdogan said.