12 Apr 2015

Armenia: what do the Pope and Kim Kardashian have in common?

Pope Francis and TV star Kim Kardashian have weighed into a debate, causing outrage in Turkey. But what is the reason behind it?

Pope Francis has described the mass killings of Armenians during the First World War as “genocide” on the centenary of the slaughter, sparking outrage in Turkey.

Turkish authorities subsequently summoned the Vatican’s ambassador in Ankara, according to officials in the country, saying that they were “deeply sorry and disappointed” by the remarks.

The pope made the comments during a mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, calling for countries to seek reconciliation over what he called the “systematic annihilation” of Armenians 100 years ago.

‘Unprecedented tragedy’

He said: “In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies.

“The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century’, struck your own Armenian people.”

Read Alex Thomson's blog: Genocide - a term we use too often or not enough

It was the first time a pope has publicly pronounced the word “genocide” for the massacre, repeating a term used by some European and South American countries but avoided by the United States and some others to maintain good relations with an important ally.

Muslim Turkey accepts many Christian Armenians died in partisan fighting beginning in 1915, but it denies that up to 1.5 million were killed and that it amounted to genocide.

His remarks come as US reality TV star Kim Kardashian, whose ancestors emigrated to the US from an area that now lies in Turkey, visited Armenia on Thursday.

According to French media AFP, an organiser of the trip said she plans to work on a documentary film about the mass killings as well as visiting the National Archives to look at documents relating to her ancestors.

Kim Kardashian has long been a strong voice to remember the massacre.

In 2014 interview with People Magazine she said: “I have been really passionate about getting people to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.”

Turkey’s position – explained by Geoffrey Robertson QC, founder of the Doughty Street Chambers in his book, An Inconvenient Genocide – is that the intent to kill Armenians was not genocidal, according to its meaning.

Turkey claims the killings were part of a conflict not a systematic genocidal campaign of murder and “that the Armenians as a group took up arms against their own government” and joined Russian forces.

The pope is not the the only religious figure to have publicly spoken out against the massacre.

The last sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Vahdettin (Mehmet VI), who reigned from 1918 to 1922, is said to have publicly declared: “Such misdeeds … have broken my heart. I have ordered an inquiry as I came to the throne … Justice will soon be done.”

However, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey proclaimed a republic on October 29, 1923, bringing the empire to a swift end.

In total, 18 countries accept the massacres as genocide, including Germany, Greece, and France. The British parliament does not officially refer to the killings as a genocide.