December 4, 2006
Source: Fresno Bee (California)
Pope Benedict XVI raised the issue of the Armenian genocide committed by the former Turkish regime in the latter years of World War I — albeit indirectly — on Nov. 30, in the middle of his controversial visit to Turkey.
The oblique reference came during a meeting with the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Istanbul, Mesrob I, spiritual head of the 50,000 Orthodox Armenians who remain in Turkey — out of a population of millions who lived there before the massacres and expulsions of 1915-1917 took place.
The pope had already angered many in Turkey and the rest of the Muslim world in September, when he quoted from an obscure medieval text that recorded a debate between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian visitor. Benedict recalled that the emperor had told his adversary: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
That caused a storm of outrage in the Muslim world, and threatened, for a time, to derail the pope's trip to Turkey.
In his conversation with the Orthodox prelate Mesrob, Benedict praised the Armenian people for remaining faithful even under "truly tragic conditions, like those experienced in the past century" — a clear reference to the genocide.
Thus the pope adds his voice to the many seeking justice from Turkey — or at least a recognition of an ancient injustice. The current Turkish government, a successor to the Young Turks who replaced the corrupt and decaying Ottoman Empire, does not bear responsibility for the massacres, but it does have a duty to the truth.
The continued refusal of the Turkish government and most of the Turkish people to even acknowledge that the genocide took place flies in the face of incontrovertible historical fact.
Some 1.5 million Armenians — men, women and children — were savagely torn from their homes, sent on long and deadly marches, or simply killed out of hand.
Many of the survivors came to this country, and a few — along with many thousands of their descendants — can still be found in Fresno and the Valley. Here they have built good and prosperous lives, and are thoroughly American. Yet they still remember the horrors of the genocide, and still thirst for recognition and justice.
It's a thirst we share, along with many others — including, it is clear, the pope.