What was the reason for the tension in relations between the Vatican and Turkey?

By Angelina Alyabyeva – 1st year Law student

The purpose of this work is to study and find the reason why the peaceful Christian country of the Vatican has turned Turkey against it and not because of religious beliefs, as will be mentioned in my text. Why even more than a hundred years later the recognition of the terrible mass slaughter of Armenians causes anger on the part of the Turkish state and current officials, as well as the confirmation of the Vatican of the Armenian tragedy as a real genocide, a crime against this nation.

Fatal words and diplomatic scandal

The topic of the Turkish-Armenian conflict became acute after the Pope said that the Armenian genocide is one of the tragedies of the XX century.

In 12 April 2015, Turkey recalled its Ambassador from the Vatican for consultations with regard to the statement of the current Pope Francis, who called the murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire “genocide” and one of the three “great unprecedented tragedies” of the XX century. ‘The ambassador, Kenan Gursoy, also pointed that it was the first time Turkey has summoned its ambassador home from the Vatican, because of the Pope’s use of the word “genocide” was a one-sided evaluation’1.

But the other shocking news for Turkey was when after their dissatisfaction with the priest’s speech in Armenia, a year later on another occasion, he, once again, called the 1915 events a “genocide.” On the day of his visit to Armenia, 24 June 2016, Pope Francis, speaking about the events in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, again called them as “the Armenian genocide.”

The reaction of the Turkish state was immediate. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli called the words of the Pontiff about the Armenian genocide as the manifestation of the position of the “crusaders”. As he mentioned in the discussion, ‘it is, unfortunately, possible to see all the reflections and traces of crusader mentality in the actions of the papacy and the pope’.2

Despite the recognition of the genocide by 29 countries, Turkey traditionally rejects accusations of the Armenian genocide and reacts very painfully to criticism from the West on this issue.

Another challenge to Turkey in Ankara  involved he planned visit of Pope Francis to the monastery of Khor Virap, located on the border with Turkey. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 — thus expressing its support for Azerbaijan. Moreover, the condition of opening the border in Turkey is called “package settlement” of relations between Turkey and Armenia, as well as between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Although the priest’s trip was in the nature of reconciliation and sympathy, for Turkey every action is regarded as a betrayal by the Christian world.

Turkey opposed the description of the events that took place 100 years ago as “genocide”. According to the representative opinion of the Turkish government, the Pontiff’s statements caused a “problem of trust” in relations between Ankara and the Vatican. The Turks faced with real shock by what the Pope called the killings genocide, even though international courts do not recognize it. Ankara does not recognize the Armenian genocide, which is why the two nations are in constant conflict. Turkey claims that the victims of the tragedy of 1915 were both Armenians and Turks. Then why do their Christian “friends” go against their beliefs and openly support the hostile side? ‘Relations with the Vatican began to be built in 18683 and developed over many years; however, the apparent position of the Holy See concerning the official recognition of the Armenian genocide can break a secure connection.

The relationship of the Holy See with Turkey: peace or war?

Despite the creeping Islamization of Europe, the Vatican does not forget about the previously developed relations with Turkey and continues the dialogue with the Islamic world. In November 2014, during his visit to Turkey, Pope Francis, the one who later turned against himself the Turkish part because of the mention of the term genocide, visited the Central mosque of Istanbul, Sultanahmet. There he prayed with mufti Rahmi Yaran. Later, the Vatican recognizes this moment as silent worship of God.

It should be noted that earlier, in 2006, Turkish citizens did not accept the arrival of the Christian Holy priest in Turkey and the maintenance of peace, harmony, and cooperation in relations with the Vatican. ‘Thousands of chanting, flag-waving protesters on Sunday denounced Pope Benedict XVI as anti-Islamic, demanding that he cancel a trip to Turkey this week that the Vatican hopes will help mend relations between the pontiff and Muslims’4.

Perhaps such a hysterical reaction from Turkey could again be caused by the fact that much earlier than the appearance of Pope Francis, the Armenian genocide was again recognized by the Vatican and voiced in public. ‘The pope’s, John Paul II, recognition of the Armenian genocide follows the approval on Wednesday by the French Senate of a bill effectively acknowledging the claim that 1.5 million Armenians were killed and another 500,000 driven from their homes during events in the Ottoman Empire eight decades ago’5.

Consequently, relations between the Vatican and Turkey have always been on the verge of true peace and mutual understanding between the two religions and the developing spark of hatred because of the constant reminder of the case with the Armenians.

In the future, we can assume that the situation will worsen, because the Vatican granted Armenia’s request to disclose their archive about the events of 1915. Although many countries have recognized the genocide, Turkey continues to deny and, moreover, tries to mislead the entire world community, so Armenia has asked for the disclosure of documents that can confirm the cruelty and inhumanity of the Turkish army and genocide. Only in 2019 did the Vatican demonstrate the truth of what happened in 1915. As was also mentioned, the ‘Vatican documents will add a new dimension to Genocide Studies’6 and, therefore, neither diplomacy with Turkey nor aggressive attitude will not force the Holy See to change its position about Armenia.

Posted in Human Rights, Rule of Law