Father Antranig [Antonio] Ayvazian, a professor at University of Yerevan, and expert on the history, culture and Church in Armenia, who took part in Tuesday’s briefing, confirmed Fr. Lombardi’s comments, saying:
“As an Armenian, I lost all of my family. Only my father remained … When we speak of the genocide, it’s true, we use ‘Medz Yeghern,’ which means ‘the great carnage of uprooting a population,” Fr. Ayvazian said.
“The Armenian word is extremely strong, extremely strong,” the Armenian priest said, explaining that it means to “bloodily cut off the presence of an entire people, not just to send them away.”
He then told reporters: “Don’t forget that the Holy See, in being the Holy See, the presence of the universal Church, which encompasses all people, has to have a bit of neutrality in all of these issues that can have a political aspect. That is, the Holy See has this right — I say it as an Armenian … The Holy See has to be neutral to all peoples, even if they are enemies among themselves.”
“Only in this way can she be the bearer of peace, of a closeness that is acceptable to everyone, a coexistence of peoples, and this is her mission,” he said. “The mission of the Holy Father is to draw peoples closer together. Therefore, it’s not a matter of a word said here or there. The Holy See has already used [genocide] many times, both in writing as well as in statements.” Therefore, he said, “there’s no need to keep repeating, ‘Why didn’t he use it?’ and ‘Why didn’t he use it?’”
In his comments, Fr. Ayvazian also added that Armenians hold Pope Benedict XV in very high esteem, knowing that during the genocide, he and the Vatican tried to stop the deportations of the Armenians into the Syrian desert, save the victims and prevent the massacre of an entire people.
Fr. Ayvazian described some of great evils the Armenian people suffered, including Christians being locked inside churches and burned alive. “If you come to our province, even today, after 101 years, if you put your finger in the ground and scratch 2 centimeters down, you find endless human bones, endless, after 101 years.”
Yet during the genocide, there were also Turks who protected Armenians, both priests noted. Fr. Lombardi said that among the reporters travelling on the papal visit is Evangelina Himitian, the daughter of an Armenian evangelical pastor in Argentina, and a friend of then-Cardinal Bergoglio during his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Himitian’s grandparents were victims of the Ottoman persecution of Armenians, whose lives were saved through the help of Turkish peasants who offered them protection.
The “one thing” Armenia wants from Turkey
During the press briefing, a young Turkish journalist asked if Pope Francis will visit the Armenian/Turkish border during his 3-day visit. Fr. Lombardi said that while such a visit is not on the pope’s schedule, his release of two white doves in the direction of Mount Ararat, at the Khor Virap monastery near the Turkish border, is intended to send a message of peace. The monastery is revered as the site where St. Gregory the Illuminator, the founder of Christianity in Armenia, was imprisoned in a well for 13 years.