September 28, 2001

Washington, DC --. The first Roman Catholic Pope to visit Armenia has used the occasion for the third time in the past year to underscore the Vatican’s view that the 1915 annihilation of Armenians was a genocide. Late Thursday, a declaration issued jointly with Catholicos Karekin II referred to “the first genocide.” Earlier that day, during a prayer service in Yerevan, Pope John Paul II used the Armenian term for genocide, “Metz Yeghern.” Last November, a Vatican communique also referred to “the Armenian genocide.”

The joint declaration, issued late Thursday said in part, “The extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the Twentieth Century, and the subsequent annihilation of thousands under the former totalitarian regime are tragedies that still live in the memory of the present-day generation.”

During his prayers Thursday at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Pope John Paul II used the Armenian language term for “Genocide.” Released by the Vatican, the Pope’s prayer said, in part: “Listen, O Lord, to the lament that rises from this place, to the call of the dead from the depths of the Metz Yeghern….” “Metz Yeghern” is the traditional and sacred phrase that Armenians themselves use when referring to the Genocide of 1915. Literally, it means “the great crime” or “great calamity.” Pope John Paul II’s deliberate use of the Armenian terminology is the equivalent of using the Hebrew term “Shoah” to refer to the Holocaust.

Major media covering Pope John Paul II’s visit to Armenia this week initially misunderstood and, therefore, mischaracterized the Pontiff’s public reference to the Armenian Genocide, stating that he did not use the English word “genocide” in an apparent attempt to avoid controversy. Subsequent stories corrected the error. This was also reflected in the Turkish media which at first expressed relief that the Pope had not used the term “genocide.”

The Pope’s characterization of the Armenian annihilation as genocide this week, follows on the heels of a November 10, 2000 communiqué, issued jointly with Catholicos Karekin II from Vatican City. The relevant excerpt is as follows:

“For both of us, the 20th century was marked by extreme violence. The Armenian genocide, which began the century, was a prologue to horrors that would follow. Two world wars, countless regional conflicts and deliberately organized campaigns of extermination took the lives of millions of faithful.”

Thursday’s declaration also referred to the slaughter of confessors and martyrs during the Armenian Genocide, a fact which drew worldwide attention last April 24, the day Armenians commemorate the Genocide, when the Vatican proclaimed the Catholic Armenian bishop Ignatius Maloyan, Archbishop of Mardin, killed in 1915, as a martyr of the faith. That proclamation is the first step toward beatification and possible sainthood.

“The Armenian National Institute lauds Pope John Paul II for his reaffirmation of the memory of the Armenian Genocide in which 1.5 million people lost their lives at the hands of the Ottoman Turks,” said ANI Board of Governors Chairman Robert A. Kaloosdian. “His leadership in this matter pays tribute to the most painful chapter in Armenia’s history and sets an example for others. Armenians worldwide are deeply grateful.”

The Armenian National Institute is dedicated to the study, research, and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.