Pope Francis visits Yerevan, describes 1915 events as a great catastrophe.

Pope Francis greets Armenian Orthodox leader Karekin II at the Vatican last year (AP)
Pope Francis greets Armenian Orthodox leader Karekin II at the Vatican last year (AP)

Pope Francis during his three-day trip to Armenia on Friday denounced the deaths of Armenians during deportations by the Ottomans a century ago as "genocide."

In a carefully watched speech, Francis ad-libbed the word "genocide" to his pre-written text that had conspicuously left it out. Instead of repeating what he had said last year, that the deaths were "considered the first genocide of the 20th century," Pope directly declared the 1915 events as "genocide."

"This tragedy, this genocide, has unfortunately marked the start of a sad series of great catastrophes of the last century," the Pope said at the presidential palace in Yerevan on Friday.

Last year, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from the Vatican and accused the Pope of spreading lies.

Ankara agrees that many Armenians did die during the ethnic fighting and deportation process that took place in 1915 at the height of the World War I, but states that many Turks also died during the period and called the events a great tragedy for both sides.

The events of 1915, which took place during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, were the result of rising nationalism in the Balkans and other Ottoman-held territories. Armenian gangs aligned with Russia invaded eastern Anatolia during WW1 in an attempt to seize land and massacred thousands of Turks.

Ottomans who were fighting on several fronts during the war decided to deport Armenians from Anatolia to Iraq and Syria.

The number of casualties is heavily disputed by Turkey, who says the number is nowhere near the Armenian claim of 1.5 million, but more along the lines of 300,000. To prove the figures presented by Armenia are skewed, Turkey has offered to open their archives and let scholars and historians research the issue to reach a final consensus.

Armenia has thus far refused to open their archives and has made no effort to work with Turkey on the issue to resolve the matter once and for all.

The issue has plagued relations between the two neighbouring countries for decades.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies