The pope also courageously called on all heads of state and international organizations to recognize the truth of what took place in Armenia in 1915 ...
Pope Francis said Sunday at the Vatican what many scholars and historians have written over the years, (even though many world political leaders, including U.S. presidents, haven't had the courage to state it publicly) "that the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks was the first genocide of the 20th century."
The pope also courageously called on all heads of state and international organizations to recognize the truth of what took place in Armenia in 1915 when up to 1.5 million Christian Armenians were martyred.
However, it is still unlikely that political leaders will speak out and state the truth for fear of Turkey's recrimination. The Turkish government, led mostly by the military for years, has historically denied these crimes against humanity repeatedly. Immediately after Pope Francis's comments, the Turkish government took the dramatic step and summoned its ambassador to the Holy See back to Ankara. This means, of course, that these two sovereign countries no longer enjoy full formal diplomatic relations. The Turkish government has been putting pressure on President Obama not to mention the "G word" when discussing the horrendous events and atrocities against Armenians by the Turks.
Leading Boston businessman Harry Parsekian praised the historic statement by Pope Francis. "Hopefully the pope's comments will encourage international political leaders to face up to the Armenian Genocide and find common ground to help heal these deep and bitter wounds."
Many Armenian-Americans only want an apology by the Turkish government, despite the fact that they were deported from their ancestral home. While I was mayor of Boston, Parsekian and I headed up a major humanitarian effort to bring millions of dollars of medicine, clothes and food to Armenia immediately after one of the world's most devastating earthquakes. Later, I returned to Armenia to take part in a conference on historic conflicts. It was at this conference that I heard scholars present documentation about the Armenian Genocide of 100 years ago.
Pope Francis was joined by Armenia's leading religious and political leaders, including the Supreme Patriarch Karekin II and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in this historic anniversary event. When I was contacted by an international media source about the significance of the ceremony I said, "I hope that the candidates for U.S. president in 2016, both Republican and Democratic, will be asked by American journalists to answer the following questions: 'Do you believe the atrocities against Christian Armenians 100 years ago were an act of genocide? Crimes against humanity? Do you agree with the pope, the Armenian patriarch and millions of Americans?'
Yes, the pope's historic comments at St. Peter's Basilica will spark a diplomatic conflict with the Turkish government, but not so much with the Turkish people. We know many Turkish as well as Armenian citizens in the Boston area. They are decent, honest and hardworking people who believe in the values of justice and human rights.
I am certain they will learn that Americans believe in truth and justice, whether it was crimes against people because of their race, nationality or religion. As Pope Francis so appropriately stated Sunday, "It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood. It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today, too, there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few, and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by."
Sometimes I ask myself; is it our political leaders who are callous and insensitive, or is it ourselves?
RAY FLYNN IS THE FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE VATICAN AND MAYOR OF BOSTON.
Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.
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